Although he is splashed across the headlines this week, the Los Angeles Clippers’ longtime owner and agitator has had less than a “Sterling” reputation for some time.
Believe it or not, Donald Sterling is currently the longest tenured NBA owner. That is, until NBA Commissioner Adam Silver convinces three-quarters of the other NBA owners (22 out of 29) to force a sale of the Clippers, after which he’ll just be a forlorn billionaire business magnate who will (likely) profit more than $1 billion upon the team being sold. Not even Clippers numbers guru Cliff Paul knows the bounds of Sterling’s pocketbook. You can almost hear the gold plated violin playing over his left shoulder.
There is a pretty strong consensus that Sterling is a bad dude and a general stench on the Clippers organization. Over the years, he has been involved in several discrimination lawsuits, notably involving both his copious real estate investments (with allegations that his rental philosophies fell…let’s just say shy of Fair Housing Act standards) as well as a high profile employment discrimination suit brought by former Clippers executive and Lakers legend Elgin Baylor, alleging racially charged remarks and disparate treatment along racial lines. He allegedly called Baron Davis a bastard. He has been involved in shady business practices. He has been accused of racist statements on many occasions. His fans find him creepy. His posture is terrible. But the lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine levied on Sterling, announced today by Silver in response to the outrage over recordings in which Sterling made racist remarks, is still fundamentally surprising. After all, powerful people tend to squeak by these obstacles. You rarely see heads roll when it comes to rich folk in the private sector.
“In this country, you’re guilty until you’re proven wealthy.” — Bill Maher
The recordings, which contain private conversations between Sterling and his mistress, were released by TMZ earlier this week, prompting all hell to break loose. Despite the obvious and loathsome distastefulness of the comments, though, it seems a bit strange to me that private remarks would prompt a lifetime ban in the face of numerous other transgressions, violent and non-violent, by players and owners alike over the years. Mark Cuban, the Mavericks’ maverick owner, has stated that he is concerned about the slippery slope that such a punishment could cause, and his concern is very real. In the social media and smartphone age, I probably won’t yet have finished typing this sentence before an athlete is recorded doing something he or she would rather not be made public. The explosiveness of the Sterling scandal will only fan the flames and encourage fame-seekers or revenge-yearners to press the “record” button as well. After three days of some degree of uncertainty, are we certain that the Sterling recording was legitimate to begin with? If a star NBA player gets nabbed making similarly offensive remarks, will Silver ban him too?
I think the NBA was cognizant for a long time of the poop-smelling smear that Sterling left on the league, and Silver took the first solid opportunity that presented itself to kick him out of the club. I also think that ultimately, the Sterling case might be one of a kind, and the slope might not be as slippery as Cuban suggests because Sterling has such a checkered history. It’s easy to explain that a recidivist bigot deserves the axe while a productive star or coach might not.
This was a long time coming, and it boils down to a victory by an energized social media lynch mob. The loud voices of outrage in this situation were loud and outraged. The easiest observation is that very few folks are shedding a tear for Donald “Not So” Sterling.