Hold your applause for NBA’s handling of Donald Sterling

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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?

PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ new GM aces first big test with Kyrie Irving trade

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Everyone in the NBA — heck, nearly everyone living in the Western hemisphere — knew Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland. That should kill the Cavaliers’ leverage and make it hard to get enough quality back.

New GM Koby Altman — the guy thrust into the job when David Griffin was shown the door — pulled it off brilliantly.

That’s what I talk about in this new PBT Extra. With Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East this season. The Brooklyn Nets pick gives them flexibility going forward, whatever LeBron James decides to do next season.

First time at the plate in the big leagues and Altman crushed it to straight away center field.

Cavaliers-Celtics deal first offseason trade involving players who just met in NBA Finals or conference finals

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The Cavaliers and Celtics played in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. The teams were widely expected to meet there again.

Yet, Cleveland and Boston just completed a blockbuster trade – Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

That seemed odd.

In fact, it’s unprecedented.

That is an incredible fact, one which speaks to LeBron Jamescachet. The Cavs are emphasizing this season, LeBron’s last before a player option, by loading up with veterans Thomas and Crowder. With LeBron still reigning in Cleveland, the Celtics are delaying their peak by acquiring the younger Irving.

Adding to the intrigue: the Cavs and Celtics are still favored to meet in this year’s conference finals. At minimum, they’ll face off in a(n even more) highly anticipated opening-night matchup.

PBT Extra: What does Kyrie Irving trade mean for LeBron James?

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In the end, the entire Kyrie Irving blockbuster trade was about LeBron James. It started because Kyrie Irving wanted out of LeBron’s enormous shadow. Cleveland went with this trade because Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder help them win now, and whatever LeBron decides to do next summer the Brooklyn pick (and maybe Ante Zizic) helps them build for the future.

But what does this trade mean to LeBron James?

Honestly, it doesn’t change much. That’s what I get into in this latest PBT Extra. LeBron is leaving his options open, but maybe this deal could help Cleveland keep him if it makes them more competitive with the Warriors.

Rumor: Young Bulls ‘can’t stand’ Dwyane Wade

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After a loss last January, Dwyane Wade (in conjunction with since-traded Jimmy Butler) lashed out at his Bulls teammates for not caring enough. Those younger players didn’t receive the message gratefully, questioning why Wade didn’t practice more.

The simple answer: Wade is 35, and he and his team are better served if he saves himself for games. But Wade also should have known his schedule left him ill-suited to criticize harder-working teammates.

The whole saga exposed the inherent tension that occurs when an accomplished veteran with declining skills is thrust into a leadership position on a mediocre team.

Consider that backdrop as Wade and Chicago dance around a buyout.

Nick Friedell on ESPN discussing Wade getting bought out:

This is inevitable. It’s coming. It’s a matter of when, not if.

But right now, guys, it’s just kind of a staring contest. Everybody’s looking at each other saying, “OK, how much money are you willing to give up?”

And Gar Forman, the Bulls’ GM, at summer league, said, “Oh, we’re not having conversations.” I don’t think that’s the case. I think Dwyane’s agents and the Bulls are wanting to get this thing done.

But I’d really be surprised if it happened before the season. I still think it’s more likely that it’ll happen probably somewhere in December or January.

But this is a divorce that’s going to happen. It’s just going to take some time.

The young players on the Bulls really can’t stand Dwyane, and it’s the little secret in Chicago. They have had enough.

Wade’s January criticism was reportedly particularly directed at Nikola Mirotic and Michael Carter-Williams, neither of whom are on the roster. (Mirotic, a restricted free agent, will likely return.) Even if Wade’s comments cast a wider net, Jerian Grant, Paul Zipser, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio are the only young players still on the team from that time. None of those players deserve much influence in how the franchise operates.

Still, no matter what the young players want, it’s clear Wade no longer fits on a rebuilding Chicago. They might get their wish.

Wade is set to earn $23.8 million in the final season of an expiring contract. That salary could prove useful in a bigger trade.

If bought out, Wade would count as dead money against Chicago’s cap at his buyout amount. They Bulls should obviously be amenable if he sacrifices enough, but a small discount doesn’t justify locking into that money rather than having a trade chip available.

If Chicago is deep into the cellar as expected after the trade deadline, a buyout would be completely logical then. Maybe the Bulls even assess the trade market sooner and conclude Wade’s huge expiring contract won’t facilitate a trade.

It’s easy to see a buyout happening eventually. In the meantime, Wade and his younger teammates will just have to get along. I trust Wade’s professionalism to make this situation at least tenable, but Fred Hoiberg might have his hands full building cooperation with all the people involved.