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?

Report: Grizzlies laugh and joke in locker room after 61-point loss

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Marc Gasol lit into the Grizzlies.

And that was before their 61-point loss to the Hornets.

Gasol didn’t play in that one, but Memphis coach J.B. Bickerstaff took his turn with strong words after the game.

Bickerstaff, via Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal:

“One thing when you’ve got a bunch of young guys is they don’t understand what it takes to survive in this league,” Bickerstaff said. “If you want to make it there’s a matter of bounce-back, a matter of pride, a matter of mental toughness that you have to show on every given night and every opportunity you get. What happened tonight… there’s no defending the way we played.

“You believe because there’s opportunities you can get out there, do whatever you want and it’s my turn to play. Everything in this league is hard earned. If you’re not willing to make that sacrifice then you shouldn’t be in this league. If you can’t prove to people that that’s what you’re about then you won’t be in this league.”


Bickerstaff nor Gasol were in the locker room when it opened for media after the game. Perhaps that was a good thing because several Grizzlies players didn’t appear to take the loss hard given the amount of laughter and joking between them.

My question for anyone who has a problem with this: What would brooding and sulking do for these players? Seriously. How specifically would that help?

Also, what’s the appropriate waiting period for laughing and joking after a bad loss? A day? A week? Are these players just supposed to be miserable until they win next – which, the way things are going, might be next season?

I have no problem with players enjoying themselves in the midst of a long and dreadful season. Joy is important – to basketball and life.

Maybe the young Grizzlies aren’t appropriately dedicated to winning. That very well could be. I just don’t think a few minutes of locker room kidding proves that.

Besides, Memphis trailed by 30+ the entire second half. There was plenty of time to absorb the magnitude of this defeat and reflect on it before the locker room opened to the media.

It’s tough on players when everyone knows the Grizzlies are better off losing and improving draft position. Maybe nobody told the players to intentionally lose, but tanking manifests in an attitude throughout the organization. I doubt Memphis players enjoyed last night’s game.

I’m not going to scold them for moving on and lightening the mood afterward.

Texas A&M sophomore Robert Williams, a potential lottery pick, declares for NBA draft

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A year ago, Robert Williams returned to Texas A&M despite looking like a probable first-round and potential lottery pick.

He cemented his place in the first round and increased his chances of going in the lottery this season. Now, he’s jumping to the NBA.

Austin Laymance of the Houston Chronicle:

Texas A&M sophomore forward Robert Williams is turning pro.

Williams announced his decision to enter the NBA draft and bypass his final two seasons of eligibility after the seventh-seeded Aggies lost to third-seeded Michigan 99-72 in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament Thursday night.

At 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Williams should be a center at the next level. He’s a major leaper who puts that skill to good use blocking shots and finishing inside.

Texas A&M’s poor floor spacing – Williams often played with another big or two – did him no favors, but it clarified his role. Williams made important improvements as a defensive rebounder in his sophomore season. He also stalled as a jump shooter.

Williams will likely look better in the NBA. Though teams would love 3-point-shooting centers who also defend well, there aren’t enough to go around. When the other four positions provide spacing, shots open at the rim for players like Williams – whose rim protection is also valued in modern systems.

Report: Suns start coaching search now, before season ends

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Unlike last summer, there is going to be a lot of coaching changes this NBA offseason.

There are three teams — Phoenix, Memphis, and Milwaukee — who have interim coaches now and will conduct searches, plus at least a couple more firings are expected (Jeff Hornacek in New York and Frank Vogel in Orlando are both likely to be ousted, according to the buzz around the league, and there could be more). That’s at least five teams looking for a new coach.

The Phoenix Suns — who fired Earl Watson just three games into the season — are not wasting time, they are starting that search now, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Phoenix Suns are beginning their search for a new head coach now, a process that will include interim coach Jay Triano, general manager Ryan McDonough told ESPN…

“This is going to be a competitive marketplace,” McDonough told ESPN. “There are three of us with interim coaches in place, and we want to be able to hit the ground running. We don’t want to have to wait until the end of the regular season for candidates who aren’t with teams now. At the end of the regular season, we’ll be able to talk with coaches on non-playoff teams and we’ll need to work with playoff teams on what their approach will be on contacting (assistant) coaches still in the postseason.”

This is not going to be a fast process in Phoenix. For example, interim coach Jay Triano — who has done a respectable job since being thrown into the big chair — will get the chance to interview, but he reportedly (and understandably) wants a little time after the season ends to put together his pitch.

However, there are guys available now to interview — David Fizdale, for example — so why not get the early jump? This is going to be a wide-ranging search, for example, Jay Wright — still busy right now coaching Villanova in the NCAA Tournament — has been linked to this job. Again, never hurts to start early.

The Suns have one cornerstone player in Devin Booker and some other guys with potential to be part of the future there. The new coach needs to establish a culture and system that maximize that talent. Then McDonough needs to get a lot more quality players in to make this all work — he’s made some questionable decisions in the past (drafting Alex Len then giving a massive contract to Tyson Chandler is just the latest), now we’ll see if he can get this rebuild moving a little faster.

Three Things to Know: Protest keeps all but a couple thousand from Hawks/Kings game

Associated Press

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Hawks, Kings play to near empty building after police shooting protest blocks entrance to Sacramento’s home arena. Despite an ugly season on the court, the Kings sell out their building nightly — 17,553 average attendance, 100 percent capacity every game. A passionate fan base and an impressive new building will do that.

Thursday night, there were only a couple thousand people in the arena. The reason is a protest over the Sacramento police shooting of Stephon Clark, 23 and a father of two. Sacramento Police allege Clark had been breaking into cars, and that he ran when confronted by police — he was confronted by police in the backyard of his grandmother’s house where he was living. When two police officers approached him Clark had a cellphone in his hand, which the officers reportedly said they mistook for a gun, and they shot Clark 20 times. The shooting has sparked outrage in the city (while some video of the incident was released, the police body cam footage of the confrontation and shooting has not been yet).

The Black Lives Matter peaceful protest (there were no fights or arrests out of the night), which had shut down a Sacramento freeway earlier, moved over to the Golden 1 Center and worked to block entrance to that building. The game itself started 20 minutes late. In an effort to avoid confrontations, police kept people with tickets away from the protest, so only about 2,000 people (who had been there early when the doors opened) got in.

The Kings, to their credit, handled the situation well. Owner Vivek Ranadivé addressed the crowd after the game, surrounded by the team:

“On Sunday we had a horrific, horrific tragedy in our community. On behalf of the players, executives, ownership and the entire Kings family — first of all, we wanted to express our deepest sympathies to the family. What happened was absolutely horrific, and we are so very sorry, so very sorry for your loss. I also wanted to say that we at the Kings recognize people’s ability to protest peacefully and we respect that. We here at the Kings recognize we have a big platform — it’s a privilege but it’s also a responsibility — a responsibility we take very seriously. And we stand here before you — old, young, black, white, brown — and we are all united in our commitment. We recognize that it’s not just business as usual, and we are going to work really hard to bring everybody together to make the world a better place starting with our own community, and we’re going to work really hard to prevent this kind of a tragedy from happening again. Thank you all for your patience and have a good night.”

The Kings also will be offering refunds to people with tickets who could not get in.

On a far less important note than that tragic shooting, the Kings won the game 105-90.

2) Kemba Walker scores 35 points in the first half, Hornets beat tanktastick Grizzlies by 61. The Memphis Grizzlies have reached the figurative “sitting on the bench, their knees have ice packs taped to them” portion of the season. They are still playing games, but the team has checked out. The focus is on the draft, the upcoming coaching search, the question of who will own this team by the start of next season, and are they going to tear it down and rebuild or think if healthy they could make the playoffs next season.

The Charlotte Hornets have Kemba Walker — he always plays hard.

The result was Walker dropping 35 points in the first half and 46 for the game — on 18 shot attempts, and knocking down 10 threes — before he literally sitting on the bench, his knees with ice packs taped to them in what went on to be a historic blowout, a 61-point win for Charlotte 140-79.

It’s going to be an interesting offseason in both Charlotte and Memphis. The Hornets are already in the midst of a search for a new general manager — Gersson Rosas of the Rockets and Mitch Kupchak formerly of the Lakers are reportedly the frontrunners — but whoever gets that job will have to answer the #freeKemba question: Do the capped out and missed the playoffs Hornets trade Walker and start a rebuild, or do they run it back and try to make the postseason next year? Is Steve Clifford still coaching this team next season?

It’s the same question in Memphis — GM Chris Wallace has made it clear so far there are no plans to trade Marc Gasol, they will get Mike Conley back from injury, and with that the Grizzlies believe they can make the playoffs next season. They are trying to hang on to the grit ’n grind era a little longer. Memphis will be in the market for a new coach, too, but the bigger question for the franchise — both in terms of on-the-court direction and off-the-court challenges — is who will own the team? Robert Pera is the controlling owner right now, but due to an odd ownership arrangement he has to buy out Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus (for about $300 million) or they can buy Pera out. It’s being negotiated, but the outcome of all this is unclear, and teams with a muddled ownership rarely do well on the court.

3) Another night, another 33 points and nine rebound night from Anthony Davis. The Lakers are maybe the ultimate spoiler in the West right now — a non-playoff team that has come together, is playing well, and is not in tank mode (they don’t have their own pick this year). That has led to wins over teams such as the Cavaliers, Spurs, and Heat this month.

The Pelicans could not afford that kind of loss — even on the third night of a back-to-back-to-back — so Anthony Davis took over. Again. He dropped 33 points with nine rebounds and a couple of blocks on the Lakers in a 128-125 Pelicans win.

With the victory, the Pelicans are currently the 4/5 seed in the West, tied with Oklahoma City.