Welcome to the job Adam Silver. This isn’t your mess - you can thank your predecessor for decades of holding 20-something athletes to standards he wasn't willing to hold billion dollar league owners to. When Silver looks around at his business partners/bosses he must shake in terror, something like this was always going to happen - how could it not?
President Obama, when discussing racist slumlord Donald Sterling’s taped phone conversation, commented that, "When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk." This situation, or something similar, was coming...it was just a matter of when. Like a stick of dynamite with a drawn out fuse - and there is plenty of dynamite within the egos of the NBA ownership fraternity.
What’s clear is Sterling is being (appropriately) incinerated because of statements he made on a voice recording that was given to TMZ. The discouraging part is his beliefs were always common knowledge to anyone that even casually followed Sterling’s tenure, this wasn’t an industry secret. All it served to do is remind everyone that Sterling is a despicable human being.
People forgive all types of everything, but the one thing people generally have trouble looking past is public embarrassment. This appears to be the biggest reason for his recent (well deserved) fall - players signed up to play for him, coaches lined up to interview for him, fans bought season tickets and the league bent rules to help turn his franchise into a title contender. However, he shamed the NBA and a lot of proud people very publicly and this isn’t something the league or players can turn away from.
The irony is 'Dumb-ass Donald' is the victim here of an egregious invasion of privacy and while fans may not care about this fact, owners might. None of the people deciding Sterling’s fate want the league to be able to take away a franchise because a wife/girlfriend/ex-employee/hacker leaked damaging material to a predatory media outlet.
Is this really the message the NBA wants to send - we can turn our backs on decades of bigotry...but if its caught on tape and the world reacts angrily then we’ll try and take away your franchise?
Owners have always operated under a different set of rules than anyone else in sports. Coaches get fired, players replaced and owners collect profits. In general, when it comes to the NBA, the owners get whatever they want. If they want larger profits they lock the players out and restructure the CBA, if they want public funds for a new arena they get it or they move the franchise to a more accommodating city.
Five years ago, 'Slumlord Sterling' settled the largest federal housing discrimination lawsuit ever after the Justice Department accused him of evicting blacks and Latinos from his properties. This didn’t deter current Clippers coach Doc Rivers from leaving his job in Boston to work for Sterling or franchise stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin from re-signing with the Clippers - if only because that's who could offer maximum contracts.
The modern NBA player (like most employees anywhere) just want their cheques and can stomach an awful lot as long as the cheques clear. They have bills and as we’ve learned from various stories and '30 for 30’s', managing money isn’t a skill most players posses. Not that the general population would do any better if there was a disruption with their pay.
This idea that athletes should be boycotting games (and pay) is archaic. The point of boycotting is to bring attention to a cause that it wouldn’t ordinarily receive. There is no shortage of attention on this topic, its being discussed on every media platform in North America and will be in the media cycle indefinitely. Like the NBA, players can no longer hide in the shadows from Sterling’s reputation. Any free agent, employee or executive that ends up with the Clippers (with Donald Sterling as the owner) can’t be surprised if they're asked, "What’s it like to play for a noted bigot?" Just like any American who plays for the Toronto Raptors being asked, "What’s it like to play in Canada?"
In the end, decades of discrimination and bigotry went unpunished as Sterling (because of the NBA and nothing to do with his contribution as an owner) turned a $12.5 million investment in the Clippers into a franchise Forbes valued at $575 million and could likely net $700-800 million if put on the open market.
Ultimately the owners will have to decide what they want. Reports indicate most of them (if not all of them) want Sterling out and have for years. However, how can they do it? Most of the time the NBA owners can bully their way, with lawyers, into getting what they want. Sterling (a former divorce lawyer) seems to love going to court. This is a man who fires coaches and then refuses to pay them, forcing them to sue and spend years in court. He doesn’t seem like the type to simply ‘do the right thing‘ and walk away and sell the team.
History will be deservedly harsh on 'Slumlord Sterling', his bigot ways now known not only in the NBA community but globally, and in a matter of a weekend he became one of the faces of racism. He was scheduled to receive a lifetime achievement award from the NAACP, that’s obviously not going to happen now.
The twisted part of the story is his downfall was triggered because he couldn’t handle his woman. This must terrify the billionaire fraternity that makes up the NBA ownership. Maybe even cause them to show mercy (limited) on Sterling, who knows if one of them has a mistress/gf/wife she could leak out some type of recording. Whether in a fit of rage or for profit - will anyone be surprised if Sterling's girlfriend (almost 60 years his junior) V. Stiviano surfaces on 'Celebrity Apprentice' and/or 'Dancing with the Stars' or on some type of book tour.
I’m not suggesting all NBA owners (or owners in professional sports) are racist or discriminate but any quick Google search of NBA owners reveals some checkered characters that support questionable causes and as Silver, and fellow owners, ponder the future of Donald Sterling they're going to wonder if this could happen to them?
Odds are Sterling is out of the NBA for good and will likely be paid an obscene amount of money to take his toxic name away and he’ll never be able to sit in a crowd and watch an NBA game again - for his own safety. If only because the owners want to calm the hysteria and continue the status quo.
Added Note - "The NBA will hold a press conference [Tuesday at 2pm est] to make an announcement about its investigation involving Clippers owner Donald Sterling."
Update - Donald Sterling has been banned for life from all NBA related activities (including attending any NBA games) and has also been fined $2.5 million. Commissioner Silver will urge the board of governors to force Sterling into selling the Clippers franchise.