RECAP: On April 26 2014, TMZ reported that LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling made racist comments in private to his “archivist” V. Stiviano over an Instagram photo with Magic Johnson. Once the audio recordings were made public, the firestorm was immediate. The story dominated the global headlines amidst the most exciting NBA playoffs (multiple Game 7s in the first round) and multiple games decided by less than 5 points. Once the audio recordings were confirmed, newly minted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver fined Donald Sterling $2.5 million dollars and banned him for life. But this wasn’t the end. The NBA owners now have a motion before them to remove Donald Sterling on June 3. A vote in favor of the motion by ¾ of the owners is enough to remove Donald Sterling. In the interim, Donald Sterling and his estranged wife have been conspiring to fight the NBA decision and to sell the NBA team before June 3. Along with that, for some strange reason, Donald Sterling decided to grant CNN’s Anderson Cooper an interview to set the record straight. What happened next was more bizarre. Mr Sterling decided to further castigate Magic Johnson on national TV.
MY POSITION: Donald Sterling will not be the owner of the LA Clippers by the first regular season game of the NBA 2014-2015 season or there will be a huge NBA boycott causing massive losses for the entire NBA league until he leaves. Either way, Donald Sterling will not be owner of an NBA team next regular season. The fallout from his private comments will be one of the biggest Civil Rights moments ever.
Allow me to explain. First off, this has nothing to do with the law. I repeat. This has nothing to do with the law. This is about human decency and the right of the worker to penalize the employer for prejudice detrimental to their business arrangement. However, I will indulge all you wannabe Internet lawyers who think that this case will be decided in the court of law rather than in the court of public opinion.
The big legal picture is that there is a morality clause in the rules that prohibits players and owners from engaging in any activities which can negatively impact the business of the NBA such as prejudicial or threatening actions. As part of the NBA Constitution and rules, NBA Players can be disciplined for improper activities whether it be something as simple as looking at the ref the wrong way after a foul call or making threatening comments on Twitter. Owners, as part of the NBA constitution, can also be penalized for their actions off the court especially when it is detrimental to the NBA. The Commissioner gave the maximum allowable penality of $2.5 million, but the owners can go one step further and vote on his removal. There is no question that Donald Sterling’s comments were prejudicial at best! Moreover, Donald Sterling’s comments directly led to the LA Clippers losing multiple sponsorships overnight. He broke the rules and jeopardized millions of dollars. He has sullied the LA Clippers brand and the good name of the NBA who pride themselves on being good citizens as illustrated with their NBA Cares campaign.
And yet, some people think that this will be a protracted legal fight with Donald Sterling going down with guns blazing. You know what I say to that? Screw the legal mumbo jumbo. The top NBA players of all time (Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan) and best player in the league (LeBron James) have explicitly stated that Donald Sterling has no place in the NBA. These are the folks who turned the NBA into a billion dollar industry and continue to maintain it as such. The NBA players leadership is saying he has to go or they will boycott. To be clear, there is no NBA without the All-Stars such as LBJ, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. If they don’t play, then we don’t watch ie NBA D-League. To think that any of these multimillionaire gladiators like LeBron James,Blake Griffin or Chris Paul are going to be forced to play due to contractual obligations is laughable. For legal protection, all those stars have to do is state that one of the many injuries that they regularly ignore is paining them to the point where they can’t risk further injury. Even still, they have enough money in the bank that they can bear the brunt of that legal battle and the NBA fans will stand behind them. Whether the NBA sells the Clippers to new ownership in LA or Seattle, there is no physical way for the court system to force these players to play at a high level for entertainment. The mere act of attempting to force them to play with Donald Sterling as an owner would epitomize the slave plantation paradigm that looms behind every college and professional basketball and football team.
For good measure, the other NBA owners aren’t idiots. They are going to vote unanimously to remove Donald Sterling. None are so lacking in wisdom that they would stand behind an ignorant fool on a vote that is bound to go public. Doing so would mean risking tens of millions of dollars from NBA/TV/radio/Internet contracts from the inevitable boycott much less the associated political fallout. Let’s not forget that any owners who do not vote to oust Sterling (regardless of what they claim) would risk being labeled racist by association and having their respective brands negatively impacted. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a single Caucasian with a conscience who would risk the stigma of being labeled racist for the sake of a business friendship with an ignoramus instead of outing him for the $ake of $elf-intere$t.
The net result of this matter will have larger societal ramifications than Mendez v. Westminster (or the better known Brown v Board of Ed), because it sets the stage for the removal of any business owner in the private sector by the most profitable and influential employees over civil rights and social justice issues (ie NFL Washington R*dskins racist mascot, Chik-fil-A’s owner’s stand against same-sex marriage, etc). Instead of the masses galvanizing to force change in a society of unjust laws and an unjust criminal system (ie boycotting buses and marching on Washington), this is a few of the most influential members of a business (who happen to be Black) forcing out the owner (who happens to be White) for having a history of documented bigotry and bias with only the threat of a strike.
This is monumental and I’m getting tingly just typing about it. The world has never seen anything like this and the impact won’t be fully appreciated for decades. At least, that’s my two cents on the matter.