What took the NBA so long?
Can there be any suit in the league who didn’t know Donald Sterling was — and has been for years — a nut job waiting to splatter?
‘‘We will move extraordinarily quickly,’’ NBA commissioner Adam Silver said of the league’s investigation of and possible sanctions against Sterling, the Los Angeles Clippers owner who allegedly made racist comments that were shared by TMZ on Friday night.
Sports Illustrated contributor Franz Lidz is an old, trusted friend of mine, and when he wrote an in-depth story about Sterling back in the April 17, 2000, edition of the magazine, that was all I needed to know on the subject.
Lidz can be wacky himself, but he’s a fine journalist. He wrote about 580-pound sumo wrestler Konishiki, Don King’s hair and llamas as golf caddies. But he also co-wrote the ground-shaking 2013 SI cover story with NBA player Jason Collins in which Collins announced he was gay.
Here was one of the early statements from Lidz’s takedown of Sterling 14 years ago: ‘‘In the living room of his Greco-American-South mansion in Beverly Hills, Sterling once conducted a get-acquainted meeting with a top draft pick and his agent . . . wearing nothing but a bathrobe open to his navel.’’
Sterling often had parties, for which he posted newspaper ads for ‘‘hostesses’’ interested in meeting ‘‘celebrities and sports stars.’’ Lidz: ‘‘One former Clippers coach recalls dropping in on Sterling during a cattle call. ‘The whole floor reeked of perfume,’ he says. ‘There were about 50 women all dolled up and waiting outside Donald’s office, and another 50 waiting outside the building. The chosen few got to dress scantily, mingle with C-list actors and serve wine in plastic cups.’ ’’
The items that cemented Sterling’s reputation were two-fold. He had made tens of millions of dollars in California real estate, and his Clippers — first in San Diego, then sharing a building with the Lakers in Los Angeles — were atrocious losers and always had been. But like other NBA owners, Sterling had bought his way in, and there was no getting him out.
‘‘Being a Clipper can be real tough,’’ former Clippers point guard Pooh Richardson lamented. ‘‘It’s almost a given that you won’t win and that the team won’t hold on to its best players.’’
The Clippers have rebuilt endlessly because of Sterling’s meddling and cheapness, until this year, when it almost seemed possible — behind Chris Paul and Blake Griffin — that the Clips were finally a contender. Then came the clown act by their owner.
In protest, the players wore their jerseys inside-out during warmups before Sunday’s playoff game against the Warriors in Oakland. It surprised no one that they got hammered 118-97 in the game. Talk about conflict?
Certainly you have noticed the NBA is comprised largely of black players and a growing number of mixed-race players. That latter category — a burgeoning demographic to which both President Obama and Tiger Woods belong — includes Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Brook and Robin Lopez, Deron Williams, the Warriors’ Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, and even Sterling’s own superstar, Griffin.
When Sterling (that’s if his voice is still being double-checked) says to his mixed-race girlfriend (irony?!) in the leaked audio, ‘‘It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people,’’ it really does make a listener cringe. Following the pattern of late-career media meltdowns for racists, Sterling joins the Al Campanis-Jimmy the Greek pantheon of old buzzards who seem lost in another century. Indeed, Sterling gives the word ‘‘owner’’ a chilling pre-Civil War nod.
During the Clippers-Warriors game, former NBA star and current Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson (a black man) told an interviewer that the players he’s spoken to ‘‘are outraged’’ and want ‘‘extreme’’ discipline for Sterling. Like selling? Who knows.
‘‘This is a defining moment in NBA history,’’ Johnson said. And the players can be united via electronics. ‘‘That’s the great thing about social media.’’
Well, it’s also how a guy like Sterling goes boom. Isn’t it how virtually everybody goes down these days? Not like Sterling’s scattered mentality should have been a big secret.
‘‘I’m in San Diego to stay and committed to making the city proud of the Clippers,’’ he wrote in an open letter to fans at the beginning. Three years later he and the team were gone. He hired a former model to be the assistant GM. He did very weird things.
At the end of his SI piece, Lidz quoted one of Sterling’s best friends: ‘‘You know when the Clippers will be successful? When Donald finds out what he doesn’t know.’’
Sounds like never.