In the race to be first, though not necessarily correct, TMZ reported Tuesday that disgraced L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling would be slapped by the NBA with an “indefinite” suspension and a $5 million fine, though not forced by his fellow league owners to sell the team.
It was fitting that TMZ — which days earlier had released the audio of the 80-year-old Sterling’s racist rant to his 31-year-old mistress — would continue to drive the reporting of this salacious, offensive, secret-recording scandal. Of course, the gossip site was wrong. Spectacularly wrong.
“Effective immediately,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced shortly thereafter, “I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA.”
Boom goes the dynamite.
It turns out Silver, still nearly brand-new to the commissioner’s job, is a man of both backbone and heart. The punishment he slammed down on Sterling will prevent him from putting his dirty mitts on the Clippers or the NBA ever again. The $2.5 million fine — the maximum amount under the league’s constitution — will be donated to anti-discrimination causes selected by the league and its players.
Silver was emotional Tuesday, and perhaps more believable, more human, than his ever-controlling predecessor David Stern would’ve been in such a situation. Silver said he was “personally distraught” and apologized to the league’s pioneering black players as well as to Magic Johnson, who was mentioned by name in the Sterling recording.
And Silver is, in fact, attempting to force Sterling to sell his team. He’ll need three-fourths of the league’s owners to vote out Sterling.
A couple of days ago, it might’ve seemed reasonable to wonder if so many owners would turn their backs on a guy who purchased the Clippers (for about $12.5 million) all the way back in 1981. Considering the franchise is valued at well over $500 million today, one can imagine why NBA owners might not wish to set a precedent for the removal of one of their own.
Some are calling for a public vote to keep the pressure on owners, but that’s completely unneeded. Silver applied more than enough pressure himself Tuesday, clearly positioning this as a moral and ethical issue.
“I fully expect to get the support I need from the other NBA owners to remove him,” he said.
The $2.5 million fine is a parking ticket for real-estate mogul Sterling, whose personal worth is estimated at over $2 billion, but that’s OK. The damage done to his reputation — and his ego — surely is much greater. The fact that this landlord from hell’s longtime, well-established pattern of racism is only now blowing up in his face, well, it’s better late than never.
There was a time — a decades-long period, in fact — when the Clippers organization was the punch line of the major American pro sports. The team never failed to humiliate itself on the court. The owner was a cheapskate and a bit of a lout. Billy Crystal was their only celebrity fan, which was kind of cute.
But we’re talking today about a team — a brand — that, prior to last weekend, couldn’t have been much hotter. The Clippers played 21 nationally televised games during the regular season, trailing only the Heat, Knicks and Lakers (25 apiece) as well as the Bulls and Thunder (24 each). With their stylish brand of play, the Clippers established themselves as legitimate threat to the Lakers within the L.A. market.
If Sterling had been allowed to maintain control of the franchise, all of that surely would’ve been lost. Who would want to play there? Coach there? Attend games there?
But jettisoning a Grade A scumbag from the sport wasn’t merely a business move. It was a human move — and the only move.