The NBA has been pretty much the top story in the news over the last few days, but unfortunately it is not because of the current playoffs.
It's because of Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles clippers, who over the weekend had audio released where he asked his girlfriend not to bring black people to Clippers games, and asked her why she would even want to be associated with black people.
It just goes to show that as rich as one can be (he's reportedly worth $2 billion), your money can't make you any less ignorant. I mean, here's a guy that, if reports are to be believed, has half of his net worth invested in a professional basketball team where a majority of the players that he employs…are black. Where a big chunk of the fan base that pays money to buy tickets to see his team play, are black. Where people that buy the jerseys of his teams players…are black.
Thank goodness the NBA came down yesterday and put the hammer down. He's been fined a few million dollars and is essentially banned for life. This means that while he can still own the team (for now), he can't participate in any day to day activities. He can't show up at the games. He can essentially have nothing to do with the team that he owns.
That's good, but it's not good enough.
I would not be surprised if the punishments handed down yesterday were just the first step toward eventually trying to remove him of ownership altogether. It's my belief that yesterday's punishments were simply so that the Clippers players would agree to play the game scheduled last night. It was their first home playoff game since the scandal erupted. They played a game over the weekend, but it was an away game. I just couldn't see a situation where the players on that team would want to go to their home court and play a playoff basketball game with no punishment having come to Sterling.
I believe that the players would have boycotted the game had the punishments not come down. There's no way that the NBA would have allowed that. They had to do something.
But, again, I think that's the first step.
In my mind, and I'm sure it's in the minds of others, is that Donald Sterling cannot remain owner of the team. Period. Even if he's banned from having anything to do with it, the fact that his name would remain next to the owner title would drive way everyone and everyone. Consider:
- Fans – I know many current fans are torn. They want to support the players but can't figure out how to cheer for the players while not supporting the organization. Eventually, I think fans would simply leave.
- Players – What player is ever going to want to play for this organization, knowing that the man that signs your paycheck in some fashion has no problem going on record as being a racist?
- Sponsors – Over a dozen sponsors of the team have already pulled out, and you'd better believe those that haven't are probably just waiting for the phone lines to clear before doing so.
In other words, if Donald Sterling remained as owner, everybody would suffer. Let's not forget that the NBA is a business, and the idea of losing an entire fan base, millions in sponsorships, and guaranteeing a mediocre product (a concept with which the Clippers were very familiar with anyways for over two decades), it's all bad for business. And, I can't see the NBA allowing it.
I have heard some backlash to the fines, stating that while Sterling's comments may have been offensive and inappropriate, he was still protected by the First Amendment. That's true in that they can't send him to jail, but when it comes to the business of the NBA, the First Amendment doesn't cover that. The NBA is not going to let one of their thirty teams whither up and die, and the current punishments, and what I expect to be the eventual removal of him as an owner, are justifiable from a business perspective.
I have grown up in a world where the Clippers have been nothing but an embarrassment, and that starts and stops with Donald Sterling. For years, he let the organization mire in mediocrity, making one awful move after another to keep them at or near the bottom of the standings for just about every year. At some point, he either got smart or lucky enough to actually have a contending team, but as soon as that happens, he's now gone and managed to screw that up in about as putrid of fashion imaginable.
It has to end. The sooner the better.
I embrace the idea of an NBA where Donald Sterling is no longer part. The players, the employees, the coaches, the fans, and everybody else involved deserves better than him. And, it goes to show that having money doesn't make you any more smart, any more tolerant, any more of a role model. It doesn't make you any better of a boss, nor does money make you any less of a terrible person if you already are one.