Adam Silver

Hold your applause for NBA’s handling of Donald Sterling


Why did the NBA ban Donald Sterling for life?

Because he was found guilty a crime? No. The first amendment protects Sterling’s speech, and nobody has or will even file charges against him.

Because he had racist thoughts? Doubtful. If the NBA truly didn’t want owners who with racist thoughts, it would begin interrogating every owner to ensure nobody else shared Sterling’s worldview.

Because he said racist things? Again, doubtful. If that were the case, the league could more-thoroughly investigate its owners to determine which, if any, spew racist statements in private.

The NBA banned Sterling because he was costing the league money. Period.

There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’m glad he’s out. But don’t celebrate the NBA as a grand arbiter of justice only because capitalism happened to coincide with morality.

Sterling’s comments to V. Stiviano were far from the worst things he’s ever done. They were just the thing that drew the largest public shaming. Sterling’s history is much more consequential:

  • In 1996, Christine Jaksy sued Sterling for sexual harassment while she was employed by him. She testified, according to an ESPN report: “Sterling touched her in ways that made her uncomfortable and asked her to visit friends of his for sex. Sterling also repeatedly ordered her to find massage therapists to service him sexually, telling her, ‘I want someone who will, you know, let me put it in or who [will] suck on it.’”
  • In 2003, the nonprofit Housing Rights Center and 19 of his tenants sued Sterling. A property supervisor testified, according to the ESPN report, Sterling “wanted tenants that fit his image” – meaning no blacks, Mexican-Americans, children or people receiving government housing subsidies. According to the testimony, Sterling refused to make repairs for black tenants, hunted for illegitimate causes of eviction and complained about the odor of his buildings. He allegedly said: “That’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean. And it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day. … So we have to get them out of here.” When one woman asked for repairs to a flooded and severely broken-down unit, Sterling allegedly said to the property supervisor: “Is she one of those black people that stink? … I am not going to do that. Just evict the bitch.”
  • In 2003, the ESPN report noted, Sterling employed 74 whites and zero blacks.
  • In 2003, Sterling and his wife sued a woman he had an affair with to recover property he gave her. Apparently, his case revolved around her being a “piece of trash.” In his deposition, Sterling said: “I wouldn’t have a child and certainly not with that piece of trash. Come on. This girl is the lowest form. Wait until the men testify.”
  • In 2006, the Department of Justice sued Sterling for housing discrimination. The government claim he refused to rent to blacks and people with children. According to the Los Angeles Times, an expert found Sterling rented his Koreatown apartments to far fewer blacks and Hispanics than demographics of the area would predict. Sterling’s settlement ($2.725 million) was the largest ever in such a case.

The audio revealed a troubling and dangerous mentality, but in itself, while repulsive, the mentality didn’t harm anybody. Sterling’s actions harmed people.

His actions force blacks to pay more for housing in neighborhoods with fewer public resources, worse schools and higher crime. His actions propagate sexism. His actions keep women from feeling welcome and advancing in the workplace. His actions keep blacks out of the workplace.

His actions keep wealth and power concentrated to white men.

You can understand why, while they might not have agreed with Sterling’s measures, the NBA’s other owners – a large majority of whom are white men – looked the other way. What Sterling had done didn’t aggrieve them personally.

Until it did.

Sterling’s recorded comments have brought the NBA more bad publicity than arguably any event in history. Sponsors left the Clippers en masse. The president of the United States rebuked Sterling. Players planned to boycott.

Had the league not taken swift and decisive action, Sterling would have cost the league even more money.

That’s what it took to finally kick this menace out of the league – the threat of losing money.

At his press conference yesterday, Silver was repeatedly asked why Sterling’s past misdeeds had gone unpunished. After initially deflecting, Silver gave a revealing answer.

“He’s never been suspended or fined by the league because while there have been well-documented rumors and cases filed, he was sued and the plaintiff lost the lawsuit,” Silver said. “That was Elgin Baylor. There was a case brought by the Department of Justice in which ultimately Donald Sterling settled and there was no finding of guilt, and those are the only cases that have been brought to our attention.”

As yesterday proved, the league never needed to wait for Sterling to lose a case. The NBA could have acted – and finally did – whenever it pleased.

Shame on former commissioner David Stern the other NBA owners for waiting so long.

The NBA can’t single-handedly fix racism or end housing discrimination, but it could have obstructed one person who worked counter to the cause of equality. It could have provided a model for others who find themselves doing business with racists.

Silver has received plenty of praise for his handling of the incident, and he deserves it. He rendered an appropriately strong punishment and, while delivering it yesterday, expressed anger toward Sterling with his tone.

I believe Silver’s outrage comes from a real place. What Sterling said is indefensible.

But so is what Sterling has done, and the NBA enabled it for years.

“I like Donald. He plays by his own rules,” Mark Cuban said in 2012, years after Sterling’s racism came to light. Now, Cuban says, “There’s no place for racism in the NBA, any business I’m associated with, and I don’t want to be associated with people who have that position.”

Sterling’s housing practices were just as racist as his comments about Instagram – and far, far, far more harmful. The NBA chose to look the other way.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones wrote about it in 2006, and Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel wrote about it in 2009. The league has no excuse for not seeing the racist in its midst.

Of course, it’s unfair to characterize the NBA as a stable entity capable of robotically adhering to its ethics, however warped those ethics might be. The NBA is nothing but a collection of people.

Since the Department of Justice sued Sterling for housing discrimination in 2006, 10 new owners – representing a third of the league – have come to power. Perhaps more significantly, Silver did not become commissioner until this year.

Maybe this is the dawn of a new NBA, where its members will be held accountable by their partners for violating reasonable standards of human decency. I deeply hope that’s the case.

“When the board ultimately considers his overall fitness to be an owner in the NBA,” Silver said of Sterling, “they will take into account a lifetime of behavior.”

Now – when it’s popular to do so. Where was the board while Sterling was behaving badly throughout his lifetime as an NBA owner?

More importantly, where will it be when the next owner engages in bad behavior that doesn’t cost the NBA money?

NBA: Warriors wins credited to Steve Kerr, Luke Walton can win awards

Luke Walton
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Later on Tuesday it will be announced that Warriors interim coach Luke Walton is the NBA Coach of the Month for November. (That’s not official yet, but seriously who else is going to get it?)

Yet Luke Walton’s record will remain 0-0 as a head coach. Those record 19 wins to start the season belong to Steve Kerr.

The league clarified its position to the media on Tuesday with a release:

…the head coach of record is credited with team wins and losses.  Steve Kerr remains the head coach of record for the Golden State Warriors and is credited with those results.  Additionally, any team head coach, interim head coach or acting head coach is eligible to be recognized with league coaching awards.  Therefore, Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton is eligible for NBA Coach of the Month.

The logic is that the systems installed in Golden State were put in place by Kerr, and while Walton has managed games he is not the overall architect of their success. Which is true. With all due to respect to what Walton has done Kerr laid the foundation for this team, Walton has managed it this season. He hasn’t crashed the car.

There still is no official timeframe for Kerr’s return from his back issues. He is around the team at the practice facility all the time, but is not coaching games or traveling with the team consistently.

This performance will be a significant step toward Walton getting job where his wins and losses will count on his permanent record soon enough.

Clippers’ Chris Paul exits game with “rib muscle strain” may miss time

Chris Paul, Gerald Henderson, Mason Plumlee, Al-Farouq Aminu, C.J. McCollum
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It happened in the third quarter, although it’s not clear exactly how. All anyone saw was Chris Paul calling a timeout to remove himself from the game (an eventual Clippers’ victory over the Trail Blazers) and grabbing his left side.

After the game, the Clippers said that Paul had suffered a “rib muscle strain.” CP3 will be re-evaluated on Tuesday, and then a timetable for his return will be set. It looks like he could miss a little time. Since the term “rib muscle strain” is intentionally vague we’re left to speculate a little: This could be an oblique muscle strain and if so they can be tricky, and it takes a couple of weeks (or more) to get back.

The Clippers might be wise to give Paul a little time away from the game; he has battled through a fractured finger and a strained groin this season. A little time off could help all of this. Paul played in all 82 regular season games for the Clippers last season, the first time he had done that in his career.

Paul is averaging 17.5 points and 8.4 assists per game, and the Clippers elite offense is 13.9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor rather than sitting. Look at it this way, the Clippers’ most used lineup (Paul, J.J. Redick, Lance Stephenson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) outscores opponents by 19 points per 100 possessions, but sub Austin Rivers in for Paul and they get outscored by 13.8 per 100 and their defense falls apart. (For the record, I know that they are trying different players at the three and that Luc Mbah a Moute got the chance Monday, but I was using the lineups with the most played minutes to lessen the sample size error.)

The Clippers are not the same without Chris Paul, if he is out for any stretch of time, it’s a setback for a team that had seemed to start finding it groove.

Will Kobe Bryant’s pending retirement change how Lakers use him?

Kobe Bryant, D'Angelo Russell, Byron Scott
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This is Kobe Bryant‘s final season in the NBA; he made that clear with his announcement on Sunday. If for the Lakers organization that means they want Kobe to go out playing his way — still trying to create and make tough shots — then go right ahead. As evidenced by the reactions at Staples Center Sunday night, the fans love it.

But what should have been the Lakers’ primary goal for this season — developing young players D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance — has seemed at cross purposes with that. At least in the mind of coach Byron Scott.

So there it was in crunch time against the Pacers’ Sunday and Kobe and Nick Young were on the court while Russell watched from the bench. It gives the perception the Lakers don’t embrace the future.

Will how they use Kobe Bryant — and by extension the younger players — change now that Kobe has made it official this is his final season?

“I don’t know that I’ll change that much, as far as I want him to play,” Scott said. “I still want him to go out on a very positive note. And there’s a part of me that feels he is going to have those glimmers, having some of those games I know he’s capable of having.”

Scott’s job as coach, at least in his mind, seems to have been to make the last couple seasons of Kobe’s career comfortable. He said that Kobe has earned the right to take his tough, contested shots but has benched the players he’s tried to develop for their mistakes (and not clearly communicated to those players why they are sitting, if you ask the youngsters).

Beyond the coach, this is an organizational decision and priority.

“We have to huddle up and decide if there is going to be anything different in terms of minutes,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said. “It’s not something that’s going to be decided today. But since he has made it clear this will be the last season for him, it will be more enjoyable and I think people can appreciate and will appreciate what he’s accomplished, not only in our building — with loads of love — but even more so on the road.”

Kobe isn’t going to change.

“I gave up hoping he would change his approach 15, 18 years ago,” Kupchak joked. “He is what he is. And I’m thankful for it.”

I understand the need to let the fans see Kobe be Kobe, to let him go out on his terms (although playing him 30+ minutes a night and saying the goal is to have him standing at the end of the season is an odd mix, Scott). The Lakers are selling Kobe while they try to develop their young players.

The question of how well they are developing them remains.

One thing I would like to see is more Kobe with the second unit, and by extension less with Russell and Randle. Kobe’s going to take his shots, but if he is taking those away from Nick Young or Lou Williams, so what? Let those guys fight over the ball a little (that would be entertaining). But then rest him and let Russell and Randle and the other youth learn to work together for long stretches without any of those ball dominating players on the court. That includes letting the kids close some games, even if it’s not pretty.

This was always going to be a rough Lakers’ season, although it is uglier than the team and its fans imagined. But that’s okay if the young players are getting their minutes, being coached up, and developing. The Lakers can’t let the Kobe farewell tour get in the way of that.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert with the crazy high alley-oop finish (VIDEO)

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I love that the Jazz were going to be themselves against the Warriors — two of our three best players are big men in Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, and we are going to use them whether you go small or not. Those two have the athleticism to make that work in a way few teams can’t. The result was a close game, one ultimately won by the Warriors because Stephen Curry can do Stephen Curry things, but you had to love the way the Jazz played.

And you had to love this finish by Gobert in the fourth quarter.

This alley-oop is pretty well defended, but there’s not much a defender can do when you can lob the ball above the box on the backboard, and Gobert can just go get it and finish.