Adam Silver took a swing that was heard around the world. In his first significant move as NBA commissioner, he uttered the words many of us have waited decades to hear: Donald Sterling is about to become homeless.
As punishment for racist comments that were recorded and leaked to media outlets last weekend, the Los Angeles Clippers’ owner was permanently banned from attending games and operating his team, and he is being pressured to sell the franchise he purchased in 1981. He also was fined $2.5 million – pennies in the piggy bank for a billionaire – and throughout Tuesday was publicly flogged by many of his peers and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.
“One of my favorite (leaders) Gandhi said, ‘If you slight one person, then you slight the whole universe,’ ” Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive said. “If what Mr. Sterling said was indeed true, then we should have zero tolerance, and Commissioner Silver has done the right thing. I applaud him and fully support him for his decision to have the team taken away from Mr. Sterling.”
The fact Ranadive’s sentiment seems to be shared by colleagues Joe Lacob, Paul Allen, Mark Cuban and Tom Benson, among others, is hugely significant. Stripping an owner of a franchise is a hefty undertaking. It requires a three-fourths vote of the board of governors, and Sterling, 80, is also one of the wealthiest members of the club. This isn’t George Shinn going broke and capitulating in New Orleans. This isn’t Joe and Gavin Maloof losing their economic empire, buckling under David Stern’s knuckles and apologizing to Seattle.
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Sterling is a living, breathing lawsuit, and he will not go quietly. Owners, players and fans should be prepared: The Beverly Hills real estate mogul always seems to derive more enjoyment out of protracted and assorted legal battles than his Clippers’ games.
Lawsuits for federal civil rights violations in his housing rental practices and real estate transactions. Lawsuits alleging age and racial discrimination by former general manager Elgin Baylor, among others. Lawsuits for sexual harassment. In the first three years of his ownership, as he was plotting relocation from San Diego to Los Angeles – without league approval – Sterling was routinely chased by bill collectors from hotels and restaurants and, more troubling, by former employees awaiting long-overdue paychecks.
His swift and dramatic takedown is perfect, if perfectly flawed. There is that. There is something unseemly and exploitative about relying on a private conversation between a geriatric owner and a female companion to provide the legal ammunition and stir the owners, players, sponsors, political leaders and media.
Was a line crossed here? Is social media in need of manners? Anyone who doubts homophobic and misogynistic comments are exchanged in locker rooms and clubhouses hasn’t been listening to Jonathan Martin. Additionally, while Tuesday’s events were unfolding, ESPN reported that former Golden State Warriors assistant coach Darren Erman was fired three weeks ago for secretly recording conversations between coaches, players and staff.
But that’s a conversation for another day. Silver, clearly, listened to his public. The NAACP withdrew a lifetime achievement award intended for Sterling. Corporations rushed to drop sponsorships. Fund-strapped UCLA refused a $3 million donation from him. The president of the United States chimed in from Malaysia.
The players? Many of whom chummed around with Sterling through the years? The owners? Many of whom routinely reacted to their colleague’s often-bizarre behavior with a “that’s Donald” shrug of the shoulders?
They have Silver’s back, which is essential moving forward. As the new commissioner announced the sanctions, his anger smoldered beneath his suit and tie, his voice at times quaking with emotion. The players and owners need no convincing in this respect: The slender, scholarly looking Silver is widely liked and respected. An attorney by profession, he is measured and methodical, but warm and engaging. His inclusive, almost subtle demeanor during the last collective bargaining negotiations virtually secured his status as the future commissioner.
As Johnson said Sunday on behalf of the players, in Adam they trust. The owners, too. That has to continue or this mess will persist into perpetuity. Sterling’s wife, Shelly, was seated at his side for Game 3 of the Clippers-Warriors series at Oracle Arena. His son-in-law is a Clippers executive. Silver, finally, needs to make the clean sweep.