Sterling Banned for Life? OK; Forced to Sell? We'll See
As anticipated, Round 1 in the matter of Donald T Sterling and his bigoted beliefs went to the NBA.
Commissioner Adam Silver moved swiftly and decisively.
It's yet to be determined if his actions will stand up legally, but he put them out there today for all to see. That included Sterling, who -- according to Jim Gray of Fox News -- had not spoken with Silver prior to this announcement:
The question now is, will Sterling go quietly? There's nothing in his past to indicate he will. And the irony remains, why did it take the leak of an illegally taped conversation to finally prompt the league to take action?
First and foremost, racism is absurd. Always has been; always will be. However, a society can legislate against it all it wants, but it's changing attitudes that will eradicate it. Sterling's beliefs are long-held and, frankly, have been tolerated by many who are scorching him now. While the world is changing, he isn't, which probably means he's rationalizing himself as the victim here.
Setting aside for a moment the question of how rational an 81-year-old billionaire bigot who keeps a 20-year-old multi-racial mistress can be, a rich self-perceived victim is a dangerous one. And upon first review, he's got the grounds to put up a strong fight in court.
First of all, the Commish slalomed through the issue of Sterling admitting to his comments. He'd better be certain, because if this point cannot be confirmed independently of the tape, it's tainted evidence. This was a private conversation not intended for public discourse.
Secondly, ordering Sterling to sell the Clippers might be tough. The NBA tried to force a franchise sale once before. That was the late Ted Stepien, who woefully mismanaged the Cleveland Cavaliers and shared many of Sterling's beliefs. The best it could do was broker a deal. Then-commissioner Lawrence O'Brien sent his right-hand man, David Stern, to get it done. He did, and Stepien left with a tidy profit.
Super-majority vote of owners or not, how can a private corporation like the NBA "force" a member -- banned or not -- to sell a mega-million business franchise? Unless the league wants to face another anti-trust challenge, it's time to broker a deal yet again. Perhaps the mass loss of sponsorships and the fact his profit would be well over half a billion dollars will bring him to the table and avoid all the legal wrangling.
But again, first and foremost, this is about a publicity hit to the perniciousness of racism. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar declared as much after Silver's announcement:
But even Abdul-Jabbar has his reservations as to the overall context of racism -- and of privacy -- in society. The only real change this matter has brought about is a degree of change at the top of a sports franchise. Until attitudes are freely held into account, this will merely be the latest in a string of ongoing and troubling incidents.