As this site, and many others have noted in recent days, Clippers owner and real estate tycoon Donald Sterling made some off-color and racist remarks in a private, recorded conversation he had with his current girlfriend, who happens to be partly African-American. The tape was leaked by TMZ a few days ago, and on Sunday, Deadspin released the full recording with all of its racially-inflammatory, anti-black language.
Sterling has had a NBA ownership tenure and business career marred by racial disputes and lawsuits by the bucketful, but his latest episode is by far the most damaging to his already-knocked reputation and is certainly something that the NBA needs to grab by the proverbial horns and take control of before it’s blow into even more proportions than it already has been.
This was detailed by Michael McCann on SI.com, but the legal measures through which the league could potentially force Sterling to sell the Clippers — a course of action the NBA would definitely want to follow at this point–are relatively limited, since he technically didn’t break any state or federal laws and does not currently have trouble in paying his team dues and other payroll obligations.
That does not mean the NBA is totally hamstrung, though, and since Sterling violated league rules in terms what he actually said, the NBA has plenty of power to fine him almost at will. Now, that won’t force the billionaire Sterling to give up his franchise but it certainly should put a lot of pressure on the 80 year old to seriously reconsider what he should do with the organization he has principally owned since 1981.
Regardless of what the league is allowed to do and what Sterling will do, the league has to do everything in its power to get Sterling totally out of the Clippers organization in any way possible. Whether that happens via the legal system involving many lawyers on both sides or via Sterling deciding that his 33+ years owning the Clippers has been enough, the NBA cannot afford to have a mess and scandalous figure such as Sterling bogging down the league during one of its most competitive playoffs of all time, and it’s only the first round.
For many years, especially in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the NBA — after the notorious Bad Boy Pistons — had to rebuild its image to attract new fans both in the United States and abroad. Transformations like that one take time to come true, and, if it is not dealt with effectively soon, the Donald Sterling incident could possibly have a similarly-degrading effect on the league as a whole.
It is up to new Commissioner Adam Silver to make a splash in his first year at the helm of the league to prove that it is his, and not David Stern’s, anymore, and there would be no better way for him to do that than by successfully dealing with Sterling. He has to take charge and make a much-needed change for the better in the NBA before this issue gets worse than it already is.