This Friday will mark three months since TMZ Sports released the now-infamous recording of Donald Sterling’s racist rant that sent shock waves throughout the NBA community.
By now, the entire league was hoping to have already rid itself of Sterling’s association with the Los Angeles Clippers and the NBA for good.
But as evidenced by his filing of a new lawsuit on Tuesday (challenging the validity of a proposed $2 billion sale of the Clippers from Sterling’s wife Shelly to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer), Sterling doesn’t plan on going away quietly nor anytime soon.
The ramifications of those developments could be far-reaching.
According to ESPN Los Angeles writer Arash Markazi, Clippers head coach and president of basketball operations, Doc Rivers, has already told the team’s interim CEO, Dick Parsons, three times, that he would step down from his current roles if Sterling were to continue to own the team.
Of course, Markazi also pointed out that Rivers, with two years left on his present deal, couldn’t easily coach another team and that either the sale to Ballmer would go through or the NBA would likely take control of the Clippers and sell them before Sterling would ever own the club again.
Still, that doesn’t mean that Sterling’s latest attempt to block the Clippers’ transfer of ownership isn’t a major headache for new league commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA.
Even if Sterling loses his most recent lawsuit, there’s a chance that Ballmer might not want to wait around long enough to complete the transaction if he has to wait through possible long, drawn-out court proceedings — especially with a deal deadline of Aug. 15 quickly approaching.
And if as Markazi suggests, the NBA ends up running and selling the Clippers, it could be difficult to find another suitable buyer to replace Ballmer and his $2 billion.
On top of those potential issues, there are also rumblings of possible player defections and even more likely, big money sponsors backing out of supporting the Clippers and the NBA under the weight of the franchise’s uncertain direction.
That last one, along with today’s social media age, were seemingly the biggest factors in what finally drove Silver to ban Sterling.
Doing so, given Sterling’s offensive and insensitive remarks in the Spring, was unquestionably the right move by Silver.
However, there exists somewhat of a hypocrisy on the NBA’s part in that regard, and an interesting irony which has come full circle for a league which used to turn a blind eye to Sterling’s past (and perhaps worse) indiscretions.
The public pressure, driven by Twitter, Facebook and today’s 24-hour daily news cycle made it easy for Silver to bar Sterling for life. But the threat of losing millions of dollars in corporate sponsorships made it a necessity.
Considering the way things were in the past, such a hard-line stance showed that the NBA ultimately loved green more than any color that Sterling is sadly and regrettably unwilling to tolerate in people.
Why? Just look at what the same league that is now trying to banish Sterling overlooked with Sterling in the past.
Lawsuits brought against Sterling for sexual harassment in the mid-1990s, and for housing discrimination several years later – which reportedly included some very similar (and allegedly worse) comments as what TMZ Sports reported in April, allegedly made by Sterling towards certain races of people that he was renting apartments to, were conveniently not dealt with by the NBA, Silver included.
Back then, the league’s weak excuse for ignoring those instances was that those matters were being left for courts to decide.
Yet when the NBA decided to come down hard on Sterling this year, it was as the result of a recording which in the state of California, would never legally be admissible in a court of law, since Sterling was recorded without his knowledge.
But of course, back when Sterling was embroiled in his earlier legal trouble, the Clippers were an NBA laughing stock, suffering perennial losing seasons, rather than one of the league’s better teams as they are now.
That makes a big difference when huge sums of money are involved, and perhaps more than punishing the person you should have dropped the hammer on long ago, you want to save face and make it look like you suddenly have a zero-tolerance policy with the same team owner that you allowed to not only say things about a group of people as he did in April, but to do even worse, by actually taking alleged damaging action against those he discriminated against.
It’s kind of the same way the NAACP operated with Sterling. That organization, likewise knew of Sterling’s past, which aside from his extremely questionable behavior, also included rather large donations to the NAACP.
As a result, the organization was prepared to give Sterling a lifetime achievement award for a second time, in May.
It’s interesting how money can buy a “lifetime” achievement award more than once. Further, the NAACP decided not to go through with honoring Sterling again only after (as the NBA felt in banning Sterling) public backlash became too great to do otherwise.
And then there’s Rivers. It’s certainly understandable for Rivers to be outraged enough that he would no longer wish to run or coach a Sterling-owned team, and that he might not want to keep working in a toxic environment in which Parsons implied could ultimately crumble into a “death spiral” for the Clippers’ franchise should Sterling somehow manage to maintain ownership of the team.
However, Rivers is a bright man who is by no means ignorant. It’s safe to say that he knew what the NBA and NAACP knew of Sterling’s past dealings, lawsuits and allegations long before he decided to cast his values aside for the $21 million over three years that Sterling signed him for to coach the Clippers.
Somehow that was just fine. Yet now is when Rivers says he’d walk away?
Everyone is entitled to a change of heart regarding the same issue. But that sounds a lot like the way the NBA and NAACP ignored things about Sterling when money trumped principles.
To his credit, a revisiting of those beliefs now has Rivers willing to walk away from the last two-thirds of the money Sterling originally signed him for. And although the NAACP — especially the NAACP, being the group it is — should never have offered another award to Sterling, that organization at least eventually cut its ties with Sterling for the right reasons, even if that came long after it happily accepted his donations, and although that occurred to avoid negative publicity.
The same is true for the NBA. But unlike with the NAACP or Rivers, the NBA had the power to do something years ago about Sterling’s deplorable actions in the past — the same way it did in April, under its own by-laws, courts or no courts.
Yet because the league chose to do nothing about Sterling before, it faces an ultimate cruel irony today.
Long before having to ban Sterling this year, the NBA could have acted, but instead blamed its lack of action on court litigation handling things.
But now, when the NBA would love to do all it could to send Sterling away for good, the league’s hands are tied. This time, it really is in the court’s hands, when the NBA wishes it wasn’t.