With the NBA playoffs underway, basketball is naturally a popular discussion topic among casual and hardcore fans alike. The headlines revolving around the NBA, however, have stemmed away from the players themselves and to a particular owner whose racist remarks have resulted in one of the more forceful punishments seen in sports history. I’m talking, of course, about Donald Sterling, longtime owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. The NBA and its new commissioner, Adam Silver, have been swift in bringing down the hammer of justice, but while people rejoice in Sterling’s lifetime ban and fine, the battle is far from over.
One of the more strange aspects in this ordeal is the shock factor. These remarks should not have been a surprise to the fans or the NBA. Sterling has had a history of racially discriminatory comments and policies, even while he has been the owner of the Clippers. In 2003 he faced a lawsuit alleging that he attempted to drive out African-American and Hispanic tenants from apartments he owned in Koreatown in the Los Angeles area. In 2006, he was sued by the U.S. Department of Defense for refusing to rent apartments to African-Americans and families with children. He’s even had people in the Clippers organization file a lawsuit toward him, claiming to have been on the receiving end of decades of racist behavior from Sterling.
In each of these cases, the NBA did little to nothing to punish his conduct. So why start now? Perhaps it’s the undeniability of hearing it on tape. Perhaps it’s the fact that the “offending” photo that he and his girlfriend discuss is one of her and NBA legend Magic Johnson. Either way, what is important is that something was finally done, and in swift fashion. Most anticipated a fine, and possibly a suspension, but when new NBA commissioner Adam Silver shakily announced the severity of the punishment in his first major crisis, it was a breath of fresh air. A lifetime ban from the NBA and a $2.5 million fine (the maximum fine allowed by the NBA constitution), plus an attempt to force Sterling to sell the franchise? It rang like a Kendrick Lamar song: “Poetic Justice.” People around the world and the Internet rejoiced. The tyrant had his crown removed. And people went along their way, discussing the drama of the first round of the playoffs, what to watch next on Netflix, or their plans for after Spring Splash.
But hold on.
The situation has yet to be resolved. People do not seem to understand that Donald Sterling still owns the Clippers, and probably will for some time. Adam Silver did the right thing and put the wheels in motion to force Sterling to sell the team, but it’s much more complicated than that. Sterling will be forced to sell the team only if 75 percent of the other team’s owners, or 22 out of 29, vote (in a meeting yet to be announced) in favor of it. It would seem that the vote would be simple, as no owner could possibly vote for Sterling to keep the team and support his racism, but the lines are far more blurred than racist or not racist, as pointed out by highly influential Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban: “In no uncertain terms am I supporting what Donald Sterling said, or his position,” Cuban said. “He’s obviously racist, he’s obviously bigoted. But regardless of your background, regardless of the history they have, if we’re taking something somebody said in their home and we’re trying to turn it into something that leads to you being forced to divest property in any way, shape or form, that’s not the United States of America. I don’t want to be part of that.”
This is the line that the owners have to cross to push this issue all the way: Is what someone says in their own home enough to force them to sell their livelihood? The owners could attempt to use the first amendment to defend Sterling, claiming he can say whatever he wants in the privacy of his own home, even if they don’t agree with his claims. But hopefully the owners realize that when someone who has this perspective on people is heading a franchise that is worth $575 million, with thousands of employees, while representing one of the biggest professional sports leagues in the world, this attitude is intolerable.
Even then, this situation is not over. Sterling has made it clear that he will not “go down without a fight,” and that he will file a lawsuit against the NBA if he is forced to sell. This lawsuit could take years of the Clippers’ and the NBA’s time and money, but it’s a fight worth fighting. Donald Sterling has affected many lives with this bigoted attitude of his, and now that the NBA has finally decided to take action, they must go all-out for the good of basketball, sports and people around the world.