What to Make of Donald Sterling


Unless you have been living under a rock for the last couple weeks, you heard about the leaked audio tape of Donald Sterling’s racist tirade.  When social issues are compounded with the sanctuary of professional sports, it builds a divide that forces everyone to take a position, with scarce middle ground to be stood upon.

I do not condone, believe or agree with any of the sentiments that Mr. Sterling shared to his girlfriend on the tape that went viral. I have nothing but disdain for this man who has shown over the course of his lifetime, through his personal actions and business endeavors that he discriminates.  I applaud NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for the steps taken, and I believe that the NBA would be a better place without Donald Sterling in it.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

When I initially heard what Sterling had said, my first thought was, “Wow, this story is not going away anytime soon.”  That was not meant to downplay the significance of Sterling’s words, but to say that this was going to start a civil war within the NBA pitting Sterling against the world. Across the league, every one and their mother with a voice and a microphone spoke out against Sterling, and rightfully so. What he had said was abominable and blatantly conflicted with the NBA’s image as a social protagonist where issues of diversity and equality are concerned.

Then the hammer came down. Silver led a press conference where he rendered the guilty verdict towards Sterling, presenting him with a lifetime ban that removes him from any professional relationship with his team, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the right to set foot in any of the facilities that can be associated with the NBA.

Finally a moment of clarity, that the smoke might dissipate without Sterling having to sell the team that he bought in 1981 for a meager $12.5 million. At first, I was happy with this decision. I was glad that the league would not set the terrible precedent of forcing an owner to sell his team (his rightful property) for something he believed or thought.

Disclaimer: Do I agree with those thoughts or ideas? Absolutely not. Do I have any personal respect for Donald Sterling? Absolutely not. Do I think that Donald Sterling demonstrates the personal conduct necessary to be deserving of the right to own a professional basketball team? Absolutely not.

However, at first glance, I thought that despite Sterling’s sentiments (important to consider that they were recorded illegally) that he preserved the right to keep his franchise, simply because he bought it with his own money, and it was his property. I thought that if three years from now, fans couldn’t see Donald Sterling sitting court side, that they would not care who was turning a profit off of Chris Paul and Co, and I maintain that position.

I felt that the next immediate step would be for the league’s ownership to amend the constitution to implement a code of conduct, or some form of rules of eligibility to be qualified to own an NBA franchise. This would eliminate the possibility for future incidents of similar significance, and I maintain that position.

But now that it is both mine and public knowledge, that in the NBA constitution there is a clause that presents league ownership with the ability to terminate a fellow owner’s right to own the team with a 3/4 vote, that it did not matter.  If and when that vote is staged, I have no doubt that the other 31 owners in the league will serve their constituent fan bases and vote in favor of his removal, forcing the sale of his franchise.

Sterling will not go down without a fight. He will surely lawyer up and go toe-to-toe with the league to keep his franchise.  This is where the difficulty appears, because the tape of Sterling’s comments will not be admissible in a court of law due to the fact that it was not legally recorded. The NBA will have to present other evidence that would deem Sterling worthy of removal from power, and from a third party standpoint I do not know that they have the evidence to do so.

This will certainly be a litigious bloodbath, one where Silver’s DNA will end up all over Sterling’s proverbial corpse. I am hopeful that Silver and the league ownership will be successful in their mission to remove Sterling from ownership in the NBA and force the sale of his team. The team is valued at $575 million, but Sterling will likely earn much more as a result of the inevitable bidding war over Los Angeles’ best basketball team.  Sterling deserves the public condemnation he has received, and I have nothing but confidence in Commissioner Silver to ensure that the best courses of legal action are taken.