Donald Sterling had to go as owner of the Clippers. Aside it being the right thing to do after decades of embarrassing and racist acts, the fact is that for the other 29 owners he had become bad for business. Sponsors were staying away, players were talking boycott, it was going to be a mess if he stayed.
But those same owners also didn’t like the idea of them having to vote him out for a taped private conversation (Shelly Sterling’s sale of the team was much cleaner). They would have done it, but Mark Cuban put it this way speaking to the New York Post when this first broke last April.
“I think you’ve got to be very, very careful when you start making blanket statements about what people say and think, as opposed to what they do. It’s a very, very slippery slope.”
That new age caught up with its first guy.
Sunday Atlanta Hawks majority owner Bruce Levenson announced he is selling his share of the Hawks due to a 2012 email he sent to other key members of the Hawks front office basically saying to grow the crowd at Hawks games they needed to find ways to make it more white, less African-American. (What the Hawks need to do is just sell more tickets period, they were 28th in attendance last season). The email was poorly worded, crass, and rambling — and you can be sure that other teams have had similar internal discussions. The issues he discusses are something the league itself has tried to deal with — remember David Stern hired a Republican strategist to consult on how to make the league more “red state friendly” and not long after the player dress code went into place. But Levenson turned himself in and now will sell his share of the team (at a healthy profit).
Other owners are wondering where they could be on Cuban’s slippery slope. Adrian Wojnarowski has a great story on this at Yahoo Sports.
All around the league, owners started to take inventory on loose memos, audio and video remnants of speaking engagements and staff meetings. From race to gay rights to fears of camera phones getting turned on them half-cocked in bars well past midnight, there were assuredly more than a few owners dispatching high-level cleaning crews to try and retrieve and expunge past indiscretions….
Once the NBA delivered its proclamation on Sunday, there were some unmistakable sighs of relief throughout the league. As one high-ranking team official texted within moments of the Levenson announcement, “It isn’t my guy!” Everyone’s heart stopped pounding so furiously, thrilled they had survived one more round of cuts in the roulette the post-Donald Sterling era has brought the NBA.
Yes, they survived the weekend, but Monday will come, and all around the NBA they’ll start wondering and starting worrying again: Am I next?
Somebody will be. This is a league with business owners who fight gay marriage, have strong political opinions, and there is even a Russian oligarch as an owner. There are other skeletons.
And how is NBA Commissioner Adam Silver going to handle it when the next Levenson doesn’t decide to just cash in and walk away, what happens if he fights to stay?
The fallout from Donald Sterling’s exit is not over around the NBA.