Silver Forces Sterling to Forfeit Gold and a Place at the Table

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Alright everyone huddle up. We’ve got a big post ahead of us. We haven’t done sports or politics in a while and now we’re doing both. I believe in us though. If we go out there and give it 110% we can make coherent points and turn the massive amounts of noise around this story into a clear signal. Now let’s get out there and show everyone what we’re made of!

A Timeline of Relevant Events[1][2][3]

1981- Donald Sterling buys the LA Clippers basketball team for 12.5 million.

2005- A dozen tenants represented by the Housing Rights Center settles a housing discrimination lawsuit with Donald Sterling for at least 5 million dollars.

2006- US Dept of Justice sues Donald Sterling for housing discrimination. Allegedly Sterling was quoted as saying, “Black tenants smell and attract vermin.”

2008- NAACP awards Sterling their President’s Award.

2009 – Elgin Baylor(22 year General Manager of the Clippers and 2006 NBA Executive of the Year) sues Sterling for employment discrimination on the basis of race and age. Baylor says that Sterling told him to fill the team with, “poor black boys from the South and a white head coach”

2009- NAACP awards Sterling a Lifetime Achievement Award. When asked to explain the award the president of the LA Branch of the NAACP stated it was because Sterling, “has a unique history of giving to the children of L.A.” More specifically Sterling gave between 2,000-3,000 tickets per home game to local youth groups.

2009- The Justice Dept suit from 2006 goes against Sterling and he is forced to pay 2.73 million.

2013 September – Donald Sterling is recorded by his then girlfriend Ms. Stiviano.

2014 Friday April 25th – The recordings are released by TMZ, at the time it was debated whether it was Sterling’s voice but it has since been confirmed and Donald Trump stated he thought Sterling had been set up by his girlfriend. The recordings include multiple racist remarks but among the highlights are Sterling telling his (half african half mexican) girlfriend not to put photos of her hanging out with black friends on instagram and not to bring black people to LA Clippers games. If you want to listen to the full 15 minute conversation it can be heard here.[4]

2014 Sunday April 27th- The LA Clippers play game four of their playoff series against the Golden State warriors. The game was played at Golden State’s arena in Oakland. The fans showed up with signs like this[5]. The Clippers players decided to play the game, but prior to the game demonstrated their disgust with Sterling’s comments by taking off their pre game practice jerseys, leaving them in a pile in the middle of the court, and turning their undershirts inside out so no Clippers logos were showing seen here[6]. The Clippers players also wore matching black arm brands during the game itself seen here[7]. The clippers did lose the game 118-97 so the best of 7 series was tied 2-2.

2014 Monday April 28th – The NAACP announces they are rescinding a second lifetime achievement award Sterling was set to receive this year. Multiple sponsors announce they will be suspending their partnership with the LA Clippers, they include Kia, Lumber Liquidators, Red Bull, Sprint, and State Farm. There were other sponsors who flat out canceled their partnership with the LA Clippers, they include Amtrak, Carmax, Mercedes-Benz, and Virgin America.

2014 Tuesday April 29th 2pm EST – NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announces the punishment for Donald Sterling is a lifetime ban from all NBA and Clippers events along with a 2.5 million dollar fine. This is the maximum punishment allowed by the NBA constitution that Silver is allowed to level against Sterling. It is also the first time in NBA history an owner has ever received a lifetime ban. Silver is also asking the NBA board of governors(which is made of all the team owners) to vote to force Sterling to sell the Clippers. The vote would be made in secret and require at least 3/4s of the 29 other owners to vote in favor of the decision. The punishment was heavier than most people were expecting, but is being applauded from pretty much every angle from the media, players, and fans.

2014 Tuesday April 29th 10pm EST – LA Clippers play game 5 of their playoff series. This game is played in the Clipper’s arena. The clippers are welcomed whole heartedly by their fans and there are multiple signs praising Silver for his decision. Black blankets hang over the top of the sponsors’ signs that pulled their backing. There is no pre game protest from the players and the Clippers win 113-103.

2014 Wednesday April 30th – It is revealed that the players from all six NBA teams who played last night were ready to refuse to play any of their games if the punishment was viewed to be too weak. It is also revealed that UCLA will be refusing a 3.5 million dollar donation from Sterling that was already earmarked for kidney research.

Everyone feel caught up on everything? Excellent, now that we’re 800 words into this thing, let’s get to some analysis.

I’m going to start at the end and work my way back. I disagree with UCLA giving the money back. If they were going to name a building after him, I understand why they might have backed away from that, but kidney disease is not a political statement. I can see the argument that they think it could hurt future donations. I still think a press release from UCLA denouncing Sterling’s views would have settled any possible confusion there. If they really wanted to take it to an extreme, bring in the LA Times to interview a minority person with kidney disease who is in UCLA’s health center being helped by Sterling’s money. It’s a small point in all this, but I think it bears mentioning.

I support the players’ decision to play all the games that they did. There were people ridiculing the players for ‘selling out’ for playing the games on Sunday and Tuesday. Players don’t play for the owner. They play for each other and the fans. Most players can’t even name who their owner is. I ask those of you reading this, can you name the owner of the company you work for and when you get there in the morning do you think you’re there to help them? Those of you who are self employed put your hands down. Not playing the Sunday game would have required too much of a knee jerk reaction from Adam Silver. There had been no statement made by the league at that point. If they hadn’t liked the decision once it did come down 72 hours later, then that I would have supported because then it would have been a protest of the whole league not supporting them, not just one owner.

As I said, the punishments of a lifetime ban and a 2.5 million dollar fine are the maximum allowed by the NBA constitution. The other owners are expected to vote within the week whether or not Sterling will be allowed to continue to be the owner. It is theoretically possible for Sterling to still be an owner and be banned for life. Most people are expecting this to be a unanimous 29-0 vote to force Sterling to sell. I’m not convinced. Owners don’t like forcing other owners to do things because they know it means they could be forced to do something down the road. This is the same reason the NFL owners haven’t forced Dan Snyder to change the name of the Washington Redskins.

Marc Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, has been clear he supports the punishment Silver laid out, “I agree 100% with Commissioner Silvers findings and the actions taken against Donald Sterling.” He is more concerned about the concept of removing the team from Sterling though, “if we’re taking something somebody said in their home and we’re trying to turn it into something that leads to you being forced to divest property in any way, shape or form, that’s not the United States of America. I don’t want to be part of that.” I think the vote will be much closer than other pundits are claiming.

Before we go further into the content of the second quote, there’s the question of can the NBA legally do everything it is doing. It is important to remember that the NBA isn’t a government body, they are a private organization and Sterling presumably has found out about some of the rules in his 33 years of ownership of a team. If the league thinks Sterling has affected the reputation of the league as a whole and is therefor costing everyone money, they are allowed to punish him.

There is a precedent for this in baseball. Marge Schott was the owner of the Cincinnati Reds from 1984-1999. She was made famous after such quotes as, ““I would never hire another nigger. I’d rather have a trained monkey working for me than a nigger,” , “only fruits wear earrings,” and saying of Adolf Hitler he, “was good in the beginning, but went too far.”[8] This charming individual was finally forced to sell her controlling share of the team in 1999 after an immense amount of pressure from both baseball and the rest of the team.

If I may put it in terms that someone with Sterling’s income may appreciate. When you agree to be a part of a country club and you start spinning donuts in the golf cart on the green, the country club is within their rights to remove your membership. That isn’t you divesting property, it’s the country club forcing you to abide by the contract you signed to enjoy the benefits of being in the club. Sterling will still be given the fair market value of his team which is at least 800 million dollars. There are worse punishments.

Now there are legal avenues the litigious loudmouth Sterling could take. In the state of California it is illegal to record a conversation without the consent of all parties being recorded. A man with as much experience in the courts will almost certainly try something, but, again, because the NBA is simply acting within its own organization by its own contracts, not in any legal sense, it should be a tough case to make. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote an excellent piece in Time about how amidst all the NSA outrage, more people should be looking at the private conversation angle along with the racism angle.[9]

The questions remaining mostly stem from why no one did anything sooner. As you saw in the timeline the quotes released last week weren’t out of left field(since this is an NBA article maybe ‘weren’t from beyond half court’ would be more appropriate). Through all of the housing lawsuits the NAACP still found it appropriate to praise this man and the NBA certainly never took action before now. The only criticism of Silver in the press conference yesterday was when he dodged a question asking why the NBA never looked into the discrimination lawsuits before.

This is certainly an ongoing story and there will be more whenever the NBA owners vote on whether Sterling gets to retain ownership despite the lifetime ban. To this point it truly has been handled extraordinarily well by the NBA commissioner, the players, and the majority of the fans. I don’t think the success will continue on to the vote which will not be 29-0. Until then, I will be cheering on the Clippers in the remainder of their playoff series against the Warriors. Game 6 will be Thursday May 1st and the Clippers are a slight favorite to close out the series in front of a crowd that never again will include Donald Sterling.

As always, questions, comments, and criticisms are encouraged. Answers are guaranteed.

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One thought on “Silver Forces Sterling to Forfeit Gold and a Place at the Table

    Doug said:
    April 30, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    I thought your piece was great!
    I hadn’t heard the part about UCLA giving the money back. I liked your path better.
    Silver seems to have done well considering he’s only had 3 months on the job.
    One of the things I like about sports is the mirror it holds up to society. Sports allows us to look at the enemy & it is us! Racism, Sexism and many other issues are made apparent in our culture through the lens of sports: Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King, and on.
    We are all Clippers!

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