In Some Ways, Sterling Saga Is Just Beginning

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has taken harsh action against Clippers owner Donald Sterling for his recent racist remarks captured on tape, leveling an unprecedented $2.5 million fine and a lifetime ban from all NBA-related activity. But in my opinion, that's not the end of this story. It's only the beginning.

On Tuesday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver took harsh action against Clippers owner Donald Sterling for his recent racist remarks captured on tape, leveling an unprecedented $2.5 million fine and a lifetime ban from all NBA –related activity.

But that's not the end of this story. It's only the beginning.

The other NBA owners are now signaling that, as we predicted here on Monday, they are heading toward the trial-like process which will culminate in a vote by the owners on whether to force Sterling to sell the Clippers, whether he wants to or not. As reported by True Hoop, Kings' owner Vivek Ranadive has stated that "I will not just second the motion, but lead the motion" that begins it, and other owners are expressing eagerness to join as well.

The NBA Constitution, which governs the terms of Sterling's ownership, permits such action with three-fourths approval and would reportedly foreclose any legal action by Sterling to prevent his ouster. And the attempt at such an ouster has popular support by NBA players and the public.

But it would carry significant risk.

If the vote to force a sale succeeds, the easily-litigious Sterling is widely expected to attempt to mount a legal roadblock in any way possible. The ultimate disaster for the NBA would be a failed ouster attempt that resulted in Sterling remaining an owner plus being further enriched by the proceeds from a successful anti-trust lawsuit for massive damages collected from the ones who tried to oust him.

Despite that possibility, some owners have been vocal in their desire to take the ultimate action against Sterling and appear eager to oust him as quickly as possible. On the other hand, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has taken a balanced stance, calling Sterling and his comments "wrong," "abhorrent," "[out of] place …in the NBA," "no excuse," "stupid," "idiotic," "racist," and "bigoted," but in the same breath warning about the "slippery slope" of punishing someone for words or thoughts instead of actions. (Today, Cuban and a representative from every other NBA team voiced approval of Silver's move.)

Our verdict?

First of all, let's note that racism – even in thoughts and words – is something that's simply wrong. Period. There's a special pain inflicted on a person who is told that they are second-class or undesirable simply because of their skin color, a pain that all of us should hope to help eradicate from our world. And the fact that the NBA is largely driven by the talents of those of color makes this doubly wrong and cruelly painful when coming from one who employs them.

This is or should be, a universally-understood concept. Our Mike Fisher spoke this week to ex-Mavs Ro Blackman (a native of Panama) and Eddie Najera (a native of Mexico). Their words ring true.

From Blackman: "There's no room for Sterling in this kind of league at all. At all.''

From Najera: "This is multi-cultural league. This is a multi-cultural country. Los Angeles is a city that has many 'Najeras' (Hispanics). The NBA proved a point.''

So again, we're all on the same page there.

Second, we do applaud Cuban's stance that punishments – especially extreme ones - should flow from wrong actions, rather than from wrong attitudes. As Cuban puts it, people have a "right to be stupid."

But with all that in mind, ultimately we think the NBA is doing the right thing.

In his caution to punish actions, we hope Cuban notices that Sterling has consistently acted in the very same racist way as he speaks, with a long legal and business history littered with racist misdeeds galore. That's one important reason why Sterling's offensive words resonate so strongly: the fact that he continues to preach the same message makes it fairly certain that more racist acts are coming, even if they didn't happen this particular time.

Here, Mark's extensive Monday evening comments on the subject (and others) as videographed by's Willie Martin ...

Why hadn't Sterling been hammered by the league before for his overtly racist behavior? I find it puzzling. Perhaps the league had hoped he had learned his lesson in the past, from legal punishments for some of those racist acts. And maybe with these repulsive statements, it's became easy for them to see that he hadn't and that further embarrassing race-related misdeeds are only a matter of time. In that light, we think the NBA is wise in wanting to be as disassociated as possible from him before it happens again.

As for Cuban's alarm that it's "damn scary" that an owner can be forced out of the league for such things, I strongly disagree. Although I'm as favorable to individual ownership rights as anyone, owners of major professional sports teams in today's America have a much higher standard to meet as business owners. They freely drink from the public financial trough in demanding (and getting) significant financial contributions in building arenas for their use and benefit, and the price to be paid is that they bear the burden to cater to the sensitivities of the public at large. A league has a duty to respond when an owner makes it necessary.
Did Sterling go that far? I think so, in large part because of his disgusting actions over many years that mirror the repulsive words of today. But let's be clear - the recent words, and thoughts behind them, are also abhorrent, made worse by the way they remind of those ugly acts by Sterling in the past.

In a sense, maybe these penalties should be seen as a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award for Sterling that should have been meted out long ago.

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