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?

51 Questions: Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

Michael Malone
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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

One incident sums up how bad things had gotten in Denver under the Brian Shaw regime — breaking a fourth-quarter huddle in the final game of February, Nuggets players chanted “1-2-3-six weeks!”

The players didn’t like the coach, some of them didn’t like each other, and with six weeks and 24 games left in the season they had checked out. The young players (and some of the veterans) partied so much Shaw canceled shootarounds because guys couldn’t roll in for them in the morning. Shaw had lost the team long before when he’d tried to fit square pegs into the triangle holes of his offense, and it spiraled out of control from there. The culture in Denver was broken.

Mike Malone was brought in to repair that culture.

The Jeff Van Gundy disciple has shown he can do that before. Malone was starting to build something in Sacramento (they started last season 9-6 before DeMarcus Cousins got sick), where he was asked to repair a franchise culture that by the end of the Maloof era was something akin to the Lord of the Flies. Malone also turned out to be the one coach who had gotten through to Cousins. Even with his defensive mindset and Cousins in the paint, Malone had the Kings playing at the eighth-fastest pace in the league in pace, but the Kings’ owner wanted to play faster (and maybe didn’t want to miss out on the chance to hire George Karl), so Malone got sacked.

The question becomes, is Malone alone going to turn things around in Denver and bring them back to relevance?

Not alone, and not just in one season, but he will get them on the right track.

The first step to show management was behind Malone was the trading of Ty Lawson. No doubt when focused Lawson is a quality point guard (as Houston likely benefits from this season), but he was part of the problem in the end in Denver, to the point of picking up two DUIs in six months (he checked into a rehab facility after the second one). He had mentally checked out and his example was an issue the Nuggets needed to change.

That turns the keys for the offense over to rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who impressed a lot of people at Summer League after bailing on SMU to play in China last season. But he’s still a rookie with a long way to go — as the 15 turnovers in his first two preseason games attest. Things that worked in China and Summer League don’t fly against an NBA defense.

With Mudiay at the point and a team that plays half its games at high altitude, Monroe wants to take advantage of that and get out and run. Expect the Nuggets to get back to their traditional up-tempo games, but with some things Malone loves to run (such as the Rick Adelman corner action).

But for Malone, all things — including good transition basketball — starts with defense. You have to get stops and steals to run well, and the Nuggets were 26th in the league in defensive rating last season (105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). In the first two Nuggets preseason games, that was the Nuggets focus (with mixed results).

Malone’s challenge starts with getting Kenneth Faried to buy in and play as hard on defense as he does on offense — something Faried has never done. Faried has been a defensive minus since he entered the NBA and that becomes one of Malone’s first major projects (even if it’s just to boost Faried’s trade value). Faried, who clashed with Shaw over his role, has said he’s felt energized under Malone, now the coach just has to steer that energy to the defensive end of the court.

Malone will be searching for the right center to put next to Faried, and I expect that will mean a lot of Jusuf Nurkic (who is young and shows it at times). But also expect to see some small-ball lineups with Faried at the five. Something like Mudiay, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Faried. A lineup with some athleticism and shooting that could put up points, but would they get any stops? If Gary Harris slots in for Foye, does that help the defense (Harris is guy Nuggets fans may see more and more of as the season goes on).

The roster is a work in progress, and if you were to bet on the Nuggets doing one thing this season, it should be making trades. Things are going to change.

There are nice pieces on the Nuggets, but not enough of them and with some real questions about how it all fits together. This is not a playoff team this season, not in the West.

But it’s a team that Malone could have playing a lot better late in the season than at the beginning, once some of those questions start to be answered, and the young players gain experience. That should be the goal in Denver. Begin to change the culture, get buy-in on the system, get guys playing hard again rather than dreaming of Cancun vacations by February. Change can be incremental, but Malone will start the change.

Then in a couple of years, you’ve got the team you want.

Well, so long as the Nuggets ownership doesn’t get impatient and decide it needs to change directions again.

Another Pelicans center down: Omer Asik out three weeks

Omer Asik, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver
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The Pelicans will have to play Anthony Davis at center now.

With backup center Alexis Ajinca already sidelined, starting center Omer Asik suffered his own injury.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that center Omer Asik is expected to miss the next three weeks with a right calf strain. The injury occurred during Wednesday’s practice.

If that three-week timeline is firm, Asik would miss two regular season games – at Warriors and at Trail Blazers.

Davis figured to be the most natural fit at center in Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo scheme. What happens if the Pelicans excel with him there and then stumble once Asik and Ajinca return? Because New Orleans had Bird Rights for Asik and Ajinca, re-signing them made some sense. And once they’re re-signed, Gentry must find a role for them. But that could get harder if it becomes obvious the team is best with Davis at center.

As long as Asik and Ajinca are out, Kendrick Perkins probably moves into the rotation. Jeff Adrien could also see minutes at center. Suddenly, Adrien, on an unguaranteed contract, has a much better chance of making the regular-season roster. Ryan Anderson probably plays more at power forward, too, with Davis logging more time at center.