Why Did it Take the NBA So Long to Discipline Donald Sterling?

The NBA has known about his racist views for years. Just ask Elgin Baylor.

AP Photo | Mark J. Terrill

AP Photo | Mark J. Terrill

Yesterday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced a lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine on Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.

For reasons that escape me, many found the decision commendable and that the league had done its part to respond with quick and decisive action against Sterling because of his disgusting (and confusing) racist remarks, which were recorded by his, um, “female friend” V. Stiviano, who, by the way, is a mixed race (black and Mexican) woman of color.


What didn’t happen yesterday was two-fold:

  1. Silver made no announcement about any of Sterling’s peers in the owners association coming to decisive action about Sterling’s continued ownership of the Clippers; and
  2. There was no satisfying answer from the commissioner about why Sterling had been allowed to go on this way for so long.

After his prepared remarks, a reporter asked Silver the following: “Just to be clear, you said when specific evidence was brought to the league you did act. In past cases, has Donald Sterling ever been fined or suspended for racial or offensive remarks, and if not, why not?”

Silver responded: “He’s 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. 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.”

Like a dog on a bone, the reporter followed up: “Just a follow to that, one of the greatest players of all time, Elgin Baylor, accused Donald Sterling of running a plantation style franchise. Did that not concern you, and why was that not investigated? Despite the fact he lost the case, he has a prominent standing in the league and he said some very serious things.”

And again, Silver came up short: “It concerned us greatly. We followed the litigation closely, and ultimately Elgin Baylor did not prevail in that litigation.”

Caught between a talking point and a hard place, Silver’s assertion that “when specific evidence was brought to the NBA, we acted” went up in smoke with the rest of the hot air that’s been blowing about this whole thing. Sterling, a man whose views about race relations are enough to make one wonder if he was a ghostwriter for Birth of A Nation, is symbolic of America’s problem with race — that it largely goes unchecked until it affects the bottom line.

Of course Silver banned Sterling for life. Did you see how quickly those sponsorship deals went flying off the shelves? Of course there was a $2.5 million fine, with monies being donated to organizations dedicated to anti discrimination and tolerance efforts. The head of the player’s association is the most visible player on the Clippers roster.

Sterling’s peers — including Stiviano — were content to turn a blind eye the facts of who he was as long as prestige and cash were aplenty. It is doubtful — given the pending litigation against her from Rochelle Sterling (the owner’s wife of 50 years) — that Stiviano is awakening into some racial consciousness, and more likely that her lifestyle has been compromised. Revenge is best served over a live mic.

There are no heroes here, except maybe Baylor, who served 22 years as Clippers GM and claimed Sterling had a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude” and that Sterling had a “vision of a Southern plantation-type structure” for the team. It seems everyone can be bought — even Magic Johnson, the “offending” party in the photo Stiviano took that inspired Sterling’s ire, says he “had a friendship” with Sterling, despite first conceding that “this is not the first time” Sterling has revealed himself to be a racist.

The NBA: Where amazing happens.

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  • matthew brandley

    Illegaly taped conversation from a woman who has now stated the recording was never meant to be made public and is now devestated by what has happend. What the lishit media has done has denied a man regardless of how wrong or right it may be his freedom of speech and expression in this country which is guaranteed under the u s constitution. This country under the communist obama adm will go after anyone thats not what they see as what they see fit in what they want as there mold.

  • DanyelleTBW

    Thanks for providing additional context– I had not heard Silver’s extended comments from the press conference or his response to questions about they delay. I agree, it’s insufficient.

  • Rocco Lamagela

    Banned for life for an illegally recorded conversation yet players who attack & strangle coaches, go into stands & attack fans, bring guns to NBA gamesarenas & pull them on one another, making comments that are racist, ethnic, sexist or gay slurs, illegal drug use, domestic abuse & on & on are not banned let alone letting one of the biggest racist of all time…Spike Lee sit courtside. Double standard?

  • Elliot

    Freedom of speech does not protect you from consequences that can come from what you say. It only prevents the federal government from censoring you or prosecuting you for something that you said. Sterling is about to make over 500 million dollars from selling his team. He is being kicked out of a club, not arrested. He can continue to say whatever he wants for the rest of his life. He just can’t do it at the Staples center

    • Rocco Moffo

      Very true Elliot when jesse Jackson and al sharkton went after the players from duke, who were accused of rape. After it came out she lied, they didn’t have to apolize to the players or anything, those two without proof, could have ruined those kids for life, but they are black so its okay, when they admit they were wrong to go after those kids without proof, then I will start to believe in freedom of speech. sterling is a racist I wont denied that, but if I was him. I would take this to supreme court if they force him out of the league. The comment he made were his private thoughts, and does anymore think that there isn’t a lot of blacks who say the same about white guys??? like to have a mike on spike lee sometime.

    • QuestionAllTheThings

      So in theory, someone could be holding a conversation with YOU, behind closed doors, records you saying something bad, and sends it out to a media outlet.

      Would YOU seriously stay on your high horse and respond with, “Well, this is the consequence that I deserve!”

      Of course not. You’d be livid that someone inconspicuously recorded you in such a way. We all would be. That’s why we all have an expectation of privacy when we are behind closed doors – from the Staples Center janitors, to the team’s owner.

  • Cash money, homey!

    NAACP lifetime achievement award.

  • John Pettimore

    Of course it’s a plantation structure. Basketball players are not exactly known for being intellectuals, and along with being pretty dumb, they have also spent their entire lives perfecting a set of almost completely useless skills. The reason someone like Michael Jordan was able to make hundreds of millions of dollars was that whoever owned the team and the NBA (those terrible White Guys) created and grew an enormous, very profitable business. And the players did really, really well — riches, fame and so on — and I guarantee they don’t actually care whether the owner is racist or not, as long as their paychecks keep clearing.

    • http://www.philadelinquency.com Christopher Sawyer

      Dude. Pro sports is a form of entertainment, and the players are basically providing that entertainment–like how an actor acts. Because they don’t have a beer gut and wear readymade shirts (ala your avatar) is no reason to project your body issues against their oft-stereotyped mental abilities. They do possess skills that keep them employed, namely based on stats which is a result of their performance in game time. As a profession, the number of available labor jobs is quite small considering the population size, so it’s a complete waste of effort to parade pro sports around as a possible viable career dream. All people are fallible, so also holding up pro sports players as role models is also an exercize in futility, so I’ll give you that. These folks are also highly compensated contract labor, and breaking contracts often results in lawsuits carrying high amounts of drama; which is nothing like kissing a W-2 type deskjockey job goodbye over principles which people do all the time. Lots of people say and do really dumb things and stupidity knows no income, race, political philosophy, creed or the level of elitism you project. Sterling said some pretty unflattering crap to his gold-digging girlfriend, and “somehow” in a 2-party state his direct message to her (recorded) manages to get leaked to TMZ. Girlfriend better lawyer up because I presume Sterling will probably have a wonderful tort case and privacy issues given that he didn’t consent to a recording of a phone conversation and now it’s been blasted all over creation.

  • BOM

    In the first place, the commissioner said
    in so many words that this one incident represents the totality of what
    went into making the decision to ban for life and fine $2.5M. If
    that is true, then one might say that the punishment exceeds, does not fit, the
    crime. For after all is said and done Sterling did not use the
    “n” word, did not say the hated Blacks, did not express a negative
    opinion about Blacks specifically – if he did then I stand corrected, I missed
    it. What he was saying and express emphatically to his girlfriend is
    that he has an image to maintain and that her bringing Blacks into
    his world would dilute the image that he has, and violates the
    “rules of the game.” This image which is most important to him
    is the one held of him by his peers, his billion dollar buddies who could
    appreciate him, the “slave master,” sleeping with the slave girls,
    but who take exception to the slave girl bringing her family and friends to the
    big house. It is fortunate that Sterling’s twisted rationale got him
    canned, and that excessive punishment has finally found its place