Now nobody is talking about it now — they are talking about Donald Sterling’s alleged comments to his girlfriend about black people.
It falls Adam Silver has to act in his role as commissioner to act and do it quickly and decisively — in a league so concerned about image that if a player does the “big balls dance” (ala Sam Cassell) to celebrate big bucket he gets a $25,000 fine this is a far more serious blow. Far more. This is Silver’s first big test and it’s a very public one.
The NBA is in this mess in part because former Commissioner David Stern didn’t act during a long litany of previous Sterling transgressions — some maybe not actionable by the league, but some were.
Just as a reminder, here are some Donald Sterling actions during the Stern era.
- Sterling paid $2.75 million to settle a federal housing discrimination lawsuit, the largest sum in American history for such a suit. Testimony during that suit said Sterling (and his wife) did not want African-Americans or Hispanics as tenants and his people should try to get Koreans.
- There was the lawsuit by former team GM Elgin Baylor — a lawsuit Sterling won — that was filled with stories such as when he told one coaching candidate “I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players.”
- There was in that same lawsuit Baylor saying Sterling would bring female guests into the Clippers locker room to admire the players’ “beautiful black bodies.” Or the time in contract negotiations with Danny Manning when Sterling told him “that’s a lot of money for a poor black kid.”
- He has been sued by Mike Dunleavy and virtually every former coach because once he fired them Sterling refused to pay the rest of their guaranteed contracts.
- There was the time he was drunk with a woman on his arm at LAX to interview Rollie Massimino for the Clippers coaching job and asked “I wanna know why you think you can coach these n———-.’”
- He had the franchise celebrate Black History Month in February by bringing a number of underprivileged youth to a Clippers game in March (aside the month error, the idea that “poor=black” was part of the impression).
That’s not a complete list, but you get the idea. This is far from the first time Sterling has embarrassed the league.
But as Roger Goodell has done with the Browns owner, as pretty much every commissioner has done with every owner in every league, David Stern did nothing. The Commissioners work for the owners and they tend to protect them. The other owners don’t push for action lest it boomerang back on them someday.
This time Silver can’t do that. If the league’s investigation finds that is Sterling on the TMZ tape he can’t stand by.
This has been a huge black eye for the league, one thanks to social media that has blown up in a way that some of his previous transgressions did not. Whether that’s fair or not. Whether this was is worse or not. This is the one that has become so big that President Barack Obama was asked about it during a press conference in Malaysia (where they have plenty more important things to discuss).
This is the one that rehashed a lot of his history for young NBA players that simply didn’t know (the way young people often are ignorant of history). They are now angry. A core NBA demographic is angry.
Silver has to act.
It appears the league can’t force Sterling to sell, but if that is him on the tape it may be time to push him away from the team for a while, as the MLB did with Marge Schott back in the day. Sterling loves basking in the celebrity of “his games” and his friends (and the people he wants to be his friends) coming to see his team play. Take that away from him and it’s a blow to him. It’s a start.
What Silver can’t do is sweep this under the rug. As Stern did too many times.