Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento and once a leading player in the National Basketball Association, urged the league to apply the maximum penalty to Donald Sterling. LeBron James of the Miami Heat, the best player in the league today, told reporters there is “no room” for the Los Angeles Clippers owner in the NBA. On Tuesday, Adam Silver, the league commissioner, met both standards in responding clearly, decisively and resoundingly to the reprehensible remarks of Sterling caught on tape and revealed over the weekend.
Silver barred Sterling for life from the league for the racist views he expressed. That means he cannot attend games, appear at practice facilities, participate in the decision-making or attend board of governors meetings. The commissioner fined Sterling the maximum amount allowed the league, $2.5 million. That sum may seem small given Sterling’s wealth. Then, consider how cheap the owner has been in running the team. He won’t like writing the check.
Most important, Silver vowed to “do everything in my power” to see that Sterling is forced to sell the team. That won’t be easy. Sterling won’t be readily shamed. Then, there is the distasteful prospect of him profiting handsomely, buying the team for $12.7 million three decades ago, the Clippers recently valued at $575 million.
Much has been made about the NBA failing to act sooner. Sterling has a long record of bigotry and other ugly behavior. He paid $2.76 million to settle a federal discrimination lawsuit stemming from his housing policies. So when he tells his girlfriend that he does not want her associating with blacks or blacks at his games, it fits into a pattern. Yet there is a reason Sterling has remained in the league. Part of it reflects his money, buying measures of power and respectability, often through donations to high-minded causes. The Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP had plans to honor his “lifetime achievement.”
The NBA hardly has been alone in looking the other way. Now he has crossed the line flagrantly and most publicly, and the league has responded swiftly and appropriately to his behavior.
At one point on the tape, Sterling talks about how he supports the players, gives them food, clothes, cars and houses. “Do I make the game, or do they make the game?” he asks. Fans around the globe do not follow pro basketball to watch owners own. They are passionate about the players, of whom the vast majority are black, having risen to the peak of the game through talent, work and a drive to get better.
In doing so, they have contributed to the civil-rights revolution, the National Basketball Association part of building bridges across racial lines. That is one aspect of what outrages so much about the thinking of Sterling. He doesn’t appear to have a clue about what the game involves at its best, what it has achieved and still seeks to do. The players were prepared to protest by boycotting the current playoff games. Then Adam Silver set things straight. Donald Sterling doesn’t belong in the league.