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Why Donald Sterling and Marge Schott got away with it for so long


Donald Sterling, in the last couple days, has commonly been compared to Marge Schott.

Schott owned the Cincinnati Reds from 1984-1999. In that period, she repeatedly showed herself to be racist, anti-Semitic and just generally intolerant. Yet, baseball enabled her for a long time.

Basketball has enabled Donald Sterling for a long time, too. That might change tomorrow afternoon, but it won’t erase previous years as Sterling became the NBA’s longest-tenured owner.

Why did Sterling and Schott get so much leeway to behave badly?

Joe Posnanski wrote a strong column addressing that question and why times are changing. Posnanski:

Well, owners protected owners. It’s always been that way. They would have protected Marge Schott too, protected her to the very end, except she wouldn’t keep quiet. She just loved to talk to the press. People tried to protect her, but she could not help herself. Baseball didn’t suspend and eventually push out Marge Schott for how she ran her team or even for her views. They suspended and pushed her out because she would not shut up about Hitler and African Americans and it finally was too destructive to baseball to overlook.

Like with Marge Schott: The NBA knew what Donald Sterling was about. They knew. Over the last couple of days, you have no doubt seen the long litany of racism charges, sexual harassment charges and huge settlements floating in his wake. The league knew about Sterling. The players who cared to know, knew. Everybody who wanted to know, knew. He was just about the last guy you would want owning an NBA team.

But Sterling, like Schott, got into the club. And he did enough generous things to keep getting awards for his charitable work from groups like the NAACP (he was about to receive his second NAACP lifetime achievement award before the tapes came out). And the NBA was willing — no, more than willing, they were happy — to tolerate Sterling’s obvious history of narrow-mindedness and sleaziness so long as he didn’t embarrass the NBA in some deeper way.

I suggest reading Posnanski’s column in full. You’ll better understand the current situation if you do.

Report: Rockets will try to sign Alessandro Gentile next summer

Alessandro Gentile, Paulius Jankunas
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The Rockets tried signing Sergio Llull this summer, but he opted for a long-term extension with Real Madrid.

So, they’ll just turn to another player in their large chest of stashed draft picks – Alessandro Gentile.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Gentile, who was selected No. 53 in the 2014, is a 22-year-old wing for Armani Milano. He’s a good scorer, but he primarily works from mid-range – an area the Rockets eschew. He can get to the rim in Europe, but his subpar athleticism might hinder him in the NBA.

If Gentile comes stateside, he’ll face a steep learning curve. But he’s young enough and talented enough that he could develop into a rotation player.

Report: Hawks co-owner made more money by exposing Danny Ferry’s Luol Deng comments

Michael Gearon, Bruce Levenson
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A terribly kept secret: Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. wanted to get rid of general manager Danny Ferry.

Many believe that’s why Gearon made such a big deal about Ferry’s pejorative “African” comment about Luol Deng – that Gearon was more concerned about ousting Ferry than showing real concern over racism.

Gearon had another, no less sinister, reason to raise concern over Ferry’s remarks.

Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

While Gearon felt that Ferry, as he wrote in the June 2014 email to Levenson, “put the entire franchise in jeopardy,” Gearon also figured to benefit financially from a Sterling-esque fallout.

In the spring of 2014, Gearon was in the process of selling more of his interest in the team to Levenson and the partners he had sold to in September. The agreed-upon price for roughly a third of Gearon’s remaining shares valued the Hawks at approximately $450 million, according to reports from sources.

“We accept your offer to buy the remaining 31 million,” Gearon wrote in an email to Levenson on April 17, 2014. “Let me know next steps so we can keep this simple as you suggested without a bunch of lawyers and bankers.”

Approximately five weeks later — just a little more than a week before the fateful conference call — Steve Ballmer agreed to pay $2 billion for the Clippers, a record-smashing price that completely changed the assessed value of NBA franchises. Gearon firmly maintains he was acting out of the sincerity of his convictions to safeguard the franchise from the Sterling stench, but such a spectacle also allowed him to wiggle out of selling his shares at far below market value.

Gearon and his legal team later challenged the notion that the sell-down was bound by any sort of contractual obligation and that any papers were signed. Once the organization became involved in the investigation, the sale of the shares was postponed.

Arnovitz and Windhorst did an incredible amount of reporting here. I suggest you read the full piece, which includes much more background on the Gearon-Ferry rift.

Considering the Hawks sold for $850 million, Gearon definitely made more money than if he’d sold his shares at a $450 million valuation.

Did that motivate him? Probably, though it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Most likely, his actions were derived from at least three desires – making more money, ousting Ferry and combating racism. Parsing how much each contributed is much more difficult.

What Ferry said was racist, whether or not he was looking at more racism on the sheet of paper in front of him. His comments deserved punishment.

But if Gearon didn’t have incentive to use them for his own benefit, would we even know about them? How many other teams, with more functional front offices, would have kept similar remarks under wraps or just ignored them?