In a halting and clearly angered voice, freshly minted NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Tuesday announced his intention to rid the league of Donald Sterling, the odious Southern California slumlord and owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Silver banned Sterling from associating with the Clippers, the NBA itself or even attending a game for "life." He fined Sterling the maximum allowed $2.5 million.
And finally Silver said he will personally lobby the league's Board of Governors "to force the sale of the team" that Sterling has owned since 1981. Sterling will make hundreds of millions off any sale (he originally bought the team for about $12.5 million).
"[I will] do everything in my power to urge that that happens," Silver said. "… I fully expect to get the support I need from the other NBA owners."
Three-quarters of owners are needed to force, under NBA governance rules, the 80-year-old Sterling to sell the franchise he largely mismanaged into irrelevance through the years. This rightfully pushes responsibility for what's next on fellow owners, who, should they decide to back Sterling, will have to answer to outraged players, coaches, executives, fans and sponsors.
This was a bold, power move by the new commissioner, going all in against the league's longest-tenured owner. Sterling was recorded making racist and outrageous statements in a taped conversation with a reported girlfriend. An NBA investigation, which included an interview with Sterling, determined the voice to be authentic.
Silver said Sterling expressed no remorse or apology for what was said, which overrode concerns this was simply a private conversation.
"Whether or not these remarks were originally shared in private, they are now public and they represent his views," Silver said at a packed, nationally broadcast news conference in Manhattan.
The tape came out last weekend on TMZ and came as little surprise to those familiar with Sterling, who has repeatedly been accused of being a racist businessman whose company has settled multiple housing discrimination lawsuits that, in turn, allowed him to escape previous NBA punishments.
Sterling's comments, while ridiculous and pathetic, paled in impact or importance to the actions of his companies that own large swaths of apartments and real estate in greater Los Angeles.
Housing discrimination isn't just illegal; it is simply intolerable. It directly and indirectly shapes the ability of minorities, including families and children, from climbing socio-economic ladders that the country bases its self-worth on. By forcing someone to remain in often blighted and dangerous neighborhoods with substandard schools, generations of families are denied the chance to move up and out regardless of how hard they work.
It isn't a conservative cause. It isn't a liberal cause. It's an American cause.
Yet Silver said Sterling, by settling the suits, and winning personal lawsuits against him that allege racism and discrimination, was able to avoid NBA punishment through the years.
That is, in part, a cop out, as the league and its players would've been able to voice, at the very least, objection and condemnation over an owner continually finding himself dealing with these allegations. Instead nothing was said under Silver's predecessor, David Stern, himself a former anti-housing discrimination lawyer.
If this was a slippery slope, as some Sterling defenders claim, he's been sliding down it for decades.
Silver, just three months on the job, assured there will be silence no more, blasting Sterling and his comments and then unloading the harshest sanctions that his office is allowed.
In doing so, he smartly and appropriately puts the onus of future action on Sterling's fellow billionaires.
If Sterling was allowed to still own and profit off the team, even with no input into operations, then the burden of what to do would shift to individual players and coaches (who may refuse to play for Sterling), fans who feel betrayed by this ancient and hateful thinking and sponsors who want no part of such an operation.
The NBA has long prided itself on being an inclusive, progressive family, one that has an admirable history of hiring minorities in powerful positions. It features players, coaches, executives and owners from around the globe. It plays to an international fan base, the league as popular (or more) in Manila as Milwaukee. It's never apologized for the fact this has cost it fans in certain segments of society.
Sterling represented a complete affront to everything the league and its fans believe it is about. It's clear Silver, who works at the behest of owners, is casting his lot firmly behind the players, coaches and majority of fans here.
He even took a moment to personally apologize for Sterling to a number of the league's pioneers, including Magic Johnson, whose name was uttered on the tape and is a potential future owner of the Clippers.
The move for Silver is not without risk. While he said he "spoke with several owners and have their full support" and expressed confidence Sterling would soon be gone, the vote still needs to be made. The NBA governance structure, which Sterling has agreed with for decades, allows the forced sale. Still, any backlash from owners concerned that private views could be used to force them to sell valuable assets could cost Silver his job.
Silver didn't seem to care.
For decades now, Donald Sterling has had enough money and enough power to buy his way out of anything and everything, settle the lawsuits he might lose, silence the critics who wouldn't be quiet, enrich opportunistic groups that could provide him pathetic political cover. It didn't matter how many were adversely affected.
For decades now, Donald Sterling operated as the worst of the worst, too big to fail, too litigious to corner, until a ridiculous audio tape of him talking to a reported girlfriend, of all people, finally put too bright a spotlight on him.
The NBA is pushing forward better than ever into a bright new diverse day that continues to come no matter what some bigots wish. It is still trying to unite people through sport, not divide and destroy via hateful words and actions.
Donald Sterling was a link to some sad, sorry past, a dreadful old man whom nobody wants around anymore, but too few in basketball were ever willing to stand up against.
On Tuesday that ended as Adam Silver bet his career on doing just that, bet his new job on finishing what should've been started long, long ago.
- Sports & Recreation
- Society & Culture
- Donald Sterling
- Los Angeles Clippers