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?

Short offseason, uncertain financial outlook may mean fewer coaches fired

76ers coach Brett Brown
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Already this season, Kenny Atkinson was out in Brooklyn, the New York Knicks fired coach David Fizdale, and John Beilein was shown the door in Cleveland (with J.B. Bickerstaff hired to replace him). That was just the tip of the iceberg in expected NBA coaching changes this offseason, the buzz around the league was between four and up to 10 more coaches would be fired.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Now those same teams are looking at a shortened offseason, while at the same time the owners have taken a financial hit and aren’t thrilled about the idea of paying two coaches at once, and suddenly it looks like a lot more coaches are safe. Brian Windhorst and Tim Bontemps touched on that in their story about next season at ESPN.

After much chatter before the stoppage of changes in the coaching ranks, several league executives told ESPN that teams might be more likely to hang on to coaching staffs longer than planned to avoid paying out millions to coaches fired in current market conditions.

A lot front office sources around the NBA are speculating about the same thing.

Expect a few changes. Mike D’Antoni’s contract is up in Houston and few around the league expect him to return next season. Jim Boylen is considered the walking dead in Chicago where there is a new front-office regime. New York and Brooklyn still have to hire their guys.

However, other guys considered almost certainly gone — Brett Brown in Philadelphia or Scott Brooks in Washington, for example — may keep their gig another year because of the uncertain waters of the NBA right now. Maybe not, there could be firings, but don’t expect the tidal wave of coaching changes to wash over the NBA that everyone expected back in February.

Teams forced into difficult choices to trim traveling parties for restart

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The 22 teams participating in the NBA restart were all at the Disney campus together for the first time Friday.

None of them, however, made it to the Orlando, Florida, area with their usual travel party.

Leaving families behind for several weeks — or maybe even three months, depending on how deep a team goes in the playoffs — during a pandemic isn’t the only hardship that teams are dealing with during this restart. Space limitations within the quasi-bubble at Disney also meant that teams had to cut their official traveling parties down to 37, including players, so many people who usually travel with a club aren’t on this trip.

“We’re not able to take everybody — and that stinks, because of the amount of work that they all put in every single day,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “We’ve tried to identify how to be the most efficient we can be with people that can be excellent remotely as well. I think that that’s one of the things that we’ve had to identify. In some cases, their excellence remotely probably hurt their chances of going initially.”

It’s expected that as the bubble population shrinks after six teams are eliminated from playoff contention and then eight more are ousted in the first postseason round, teams will be allowed to bring in more staff.

But until then, while teams are playing games on-site at Disney, there will be plenty of work done back in home markets and home arenas as well. Some teams left player development coaches behind, some even left assistant coaches, and all teams traveled with only one media relations staffer and one equipment manager. In normal circumstances, some teams travel with as many as three people to handle media requirements and two for equipment.

“You know, it’s tough,” Orlando President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said. “We kind of shied away from some of the language that was being thrown around — the whole idea of essential (staff) and non-essential (staff). It’s not about that. This is a very narrowly defined circumstance, and it requires certain skill sets to address this circumstance.”

Players counted against the list of 37, and most teams brought the full complement of 17 players. That left 20 spots for coaches, assistant coaches, player development, video, security, strength and conditioning, athletic training, media relations and content creators.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said the process of figuring out who goes and who doesn’t was brutal.

“We already have had a model of everybody sharing responsibilities,” Spoelstra said. “We already had a meeting about this where there’s an absolute understanding that this is an ‘all hands on deck’ situation. And that means bags, laundry, cleanup, everything … that’s not just for equipment managers, that’s everybody — coaches, trainers, weight room staff, head coach, coaches, we’re all going to be involved in every aspect of it.”

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan also expressed disappointment that tough decisions had to be made on the staffing end.

He completely understands the NBA perspective. Keeping the number of people in the bubble manageable is a key part of the NBA’s plan for being able to finish the season; the more people in the bubble, the more risk there is of something going wrong.

“Everybody deserves the opportunity, but for the safety of the league and the players we can’t do that,” Donovan said. “So, what we’ve got to do is understand, whether it’s myself or assistant coaches, we may have to be setting up video equipment, we may have to have one of our coaches filming practice in Orlando. There’s things that we’re going to have to do that are going to be outside the box that will normally been taken care of.”

Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

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Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.

Zion Williamson “just went back to square one” with quarantine workouts

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Zion Williamson looks cut — like he spent the entire quarantine doing workouts — and ready to be a force at the NBA restart in Orlando.

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Built for this 💪

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What workouts did Zion Williamson do during the break to get that look? He took everything back down to step one and built it up again working out with his stepfather Lee Anderson, Williamson told reporters on Friday (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN):

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Williamson did a little more than that. He also had approval from the league to go to the Pelicans practice facility throughout the quarantine and get treatment on his knee, the one that kept him out the first 45 games of the season. So he stayed healthy.

He also worked on other aspects of this game, such as his jump shot. Williamson took 76.7% of his shot attempts at the rim this season, and while getting to the rim is critical to his game, he’s going to have confidence in his shot and knock down jumpers to reach higher levels in the league.

The Pelicans enter the bubble 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and with the softest schedule of any team in Orlando (matching their schedule before the interruption), they have a legitimate chance of forcing a two-game play-in series. It’s not easy, but there is a path to the playoffs for New Orleans (setting up a Zion vs. LeBron James first-round showdown that league broadcast partners are drooling over).

A stronger, improved Zion could help get the Pelicans there.