Modern Lynching

New York Times – It’s the owners’ ball now. They are on the clock. Shame on them if they do not run the play that sends Donald Sterling out the N.B.A.’s back door within the procedural equivalent of a 24-second possession.

It should be an uncontested layup, really, the three-quarter vote required by the league’s Board of Governors to complete the elimination of Sterling’s misanthropic ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers that digitally crashed and burned last weekend after 33 years.

“I will urge the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team and will do everything in my power to ensure that that happens,” Commissioner Adam Silver said after barring Sterling from his own arena and every other one for life while fining him $2.5 million.

That certainly was a good start but steps one and two mean next to nothing without the final act on the part of Sterling’s 29 colleagues. How many among them would defy Silver in his first major act after succeeding David Stern earlier this year? Who among them would stand up for a man such as Sterling, given his most recent offensive remarks that made Elgin Baylor, the Clippers’ former general manager, sound like a prophet?

Baylor, a Hall of Famer, accused Sterling in a 2009 lawsuit of running his franchise with a plantation mentality. And here was Sterling, on an audio presumably made by a former girlfriend, identified as V. Stiviano, saying of his players: “I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game?”

While this wasn’t the comment that drew the harshest rebukes, in many ways it should have been the one that galvanized the players, leaguewide, in a way that even the most bitter collective bargaining battles with Stern and the owners never did.

Who makes the game? Surely not Sterling, the octogenarian who made much of his fortune as a slumlord and, as the Justice Department charged, one who was systematically prejudicial against minorities.

For context’s sake, the next time you see the Dallas owner Mark Cuban parading around the court after a game-winning shot like an Adderall-deprived man fan, remember that what he is largely communicating is the belief that being around these uniquely skilled athletes is just about the coolest thing on earth.

What was the ownership kick for Sterling? Who really knows? Anyone who listened to the audios posted on the TMZ and Deadspin websites had to take away the understanding that, however much hate is actually in his heart, he is too out of touch with 21st century multiculturalism to be in the position the league tolerated him in for far too long.

Speaking of Cuban, a self-made maverick, it was he who raised what could become a rationale for not moving, as Silver put it, “to begin that process immediately” of voting Sterling out of the league. On Monday, Cuban seemed to suggest thinking twice before rushing down a “slippery slope” that could, if Sterling resists, launch the mother of all N.B.A. litigations.

But the other risk here is the establishment of precedent. Cuban was acknowledging that Sterling — smoking gun notwithstanding — isn’t the only member of this billionaire boys club who has engaged in business practices or personal agendas that could, under certain conditions, ignite widespread scorn and contention.

On the subject of lawsuits and real estate, the Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert’s Quicken Loans has had its share of critics and litigants regarding its mortgage policies. Or have a listen sometime to the Orlando Magic owner Richard DeVoss — whose family has contributed heavily to organizations that oppose same-sex marriage — sound off on the history of the AIDs epidemic.

Of course, there is a good reason why Stern never went after Sterling’s behavioral embarrassments the way he did those owners who dared circumvent the salary cap. It’s the same reason that spared James L. Dolan the league office’s wrath when he tolerated executive harassment under the Madison Square Garden roof, along with the sexual exploitation of a Knicks intern.

On Sterling’s past, Silver said: “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. 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.”

Whatever. We get it. First and foremost, the commissioner does work for the owners. But this case was different. However illegally the audio may have been created and made public, Sterling’s comments created an instant conflagration that rapidly spread in a digitally connected world. As slippery slopes go, it became an Olympic downhill compared to Sterling’s past misadventures.

More to the point, once the story transcended normal N.B.A. channels and landed in that part of the news media unfamiliar with the league’s gold star record on minority hiring practices, it became a business calamity as much as a moral obligation. In Los Angeles, the sponsors were fleeing.

Unanimously approved by the owners as Stern’s replacement, Silver stepped to a lectern a few minutes after two on Tuesday afternoon, his voice rising as he delivered the news, not quite a smooth and grim-faced orator like his predecessor and mentor. The message was clear enough. He left no doubt that he wants Sterling gone, ASAP.

“In meting out this punishment we have not taken into account his past behavior,” he said of the barring and fine. “When the board ultimately considers his overall fitness to be an owner in the N.B.A., they will take into account a lifetime of behavior.”

Much of it bad and the latest of it publicly condemned in various statements from the owners, even one somewhat belatedly on Tuesday from Dolan.

“I didn’t poll the owners,” Silver said. “I spoke to several owners, and I have their full support.”

Now he just needs their votes so Sterling can be shown the door and prospective buyers — perhaps including Magic Johnson — can line up to rescue Doc Rivers, Chris Paul and the owners themselves from the bonfire of Sterling’s inanities.


  1. In this matter I wish Tokowitz Sterling all the very best of luck!

    It should be a crime to publicly accuse anyone of a thought crime.

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