Ryan Black commentary: NBA punishment for Donald Sterling better late than never

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comMay 2, 2014 

Ryan Black

Donald Sterling had to go.

That much was certain after the now-infamous recording of him was released by TMZ last Saturday. In the private conversation (that later became public) the Los Angeles Clippers' owner had with his girlfriend, V Stiviano, he expressed numerous racist remarks.

Good thing Adam Silver didn't waste any time getting to the root of the issue.

After launching an investigation — and speaking with Sterling himself, who confirmed it was his voice on the recording — the NBA's commissioner came down hard.

Banishment for life from the game.

A $2.5 million fine, the largest amount possible under the NBA's by-laws.

And perhaps most importantly, Silver asked the league's other owners to force Sterling to sell the team, which he has owned since 1981. Assuming three-fourths of the NBA's other owners vote in that manner — and one has to think they will, lest it be construed that they condone Sterling's racism — the Clippers will be looking for new leadership sometime in the near future.

Don't expect it to happen too quickly. If nothing else, Sterling is a fighter. When he's fired coaches and other executives in the past, he's made them take him to court to get their money. The same thing will likely happen if he has to put the Clippers up for sale. If he can bog down the purchase for the next owner by tying things up in the legal system, he'll do it.

And that would be unfortunate.

After the unwanted attention this brought to the NBA, the best thing for all parties involved would be if Sterling just went away quietly.

Clippers' players were apparently angered enough at Sterling's remarks that they prepared to sit out Tuesday night's playoff game against the Golden State Warriors. Reportedly, there were also similar agreements in place from other teams scheduled to play that night. It all rested on Silver; if players didn't believe his punishment of Sterling was harsh enough, they would have sat out.

Though it's good for the league that it didn't come to that, what happens if Sterling still owns the team at the outset of next season? Will players refuse to take the court until the sale is final?

One can certainly understand the players' thinking. No one wants to play (and make money) for an owner who has said and done the disgusting things Sterling has throughout his tenure. Not surprisingly, that was one of the questions Silver had to answer Tuesday.

Why, given Sterling's less-than-stellar history when it comes to race relations, was he just now being disciplined by the league?

Silver responded without missing a beat.

"(Sterling has) 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," he said Tuesday. "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. When those two litigations were brought, they were followed closely by the league office."

While it's easy to be critical of the NBA for looking the other way when it came to Sterling's previous behavior, what could really have been done? As Silver pointed out, neither case had Sterling admitting to any guilt. At that point, it would have been taking one person's word over another.

The opposite is true of Sterling's latest transgression — especially since he acknowledged it was him on the recording.

So condemn the NBA for being slow to react to Sterling's buffoonery in the past if you must.

Just keep in mind that it's never too late to start doing the right thing.

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