Donald Sterling is repugnant. On top of the hurtful, racist comments he told his mistress, he has a history of being offensive. In 1981, he refused to pay a prize to a man who won a free throw contest at one his games. In 2006, he settled with the Justice Department on claims that he was a serial housing discriminator. In 2010, he would be on the sidelines and heckle members of the Los Angeles Clippers, his own team. There is nothing in Mr. Sterling’s history that would make one think he is honorable. He began his career as a struggling lawyer and became an irresponsible landlord. He bought a struggling basketball franchise, the San Diego Clippers in 1981, for $12.5 million. In many respects, his team took on his spendthrift ways. For decades, the Clippers were the worst franchise in all of professional sports. They were consistently at the bottom of the standings. It is only recently that the Clippers have enjoyed some degree of success on the basketball court.
Of course, by now, we all know of the racist comments that were recorded by his mistress and leaked to the media. In a short span of just about 100 hours, Donald Sterling went from relative no name, to being banned from the NBA, having a $2.5 million fine levied against him and effectively being forced to sell the team. Is this a fitting punishment for such a morally challenged individual? Perhaps. Is it a fair punishment? Hardly.
As news moved around the move from the NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, my mind thought of three points. All of which may change the way we look at these sanctions.
First, imagine if a player in the NBA was found to have committed a crime and was arrested. In 100 hours would this individual have a lifetime ban? I seriously doubt it. If the commissioner came down with this kind of punishment, I am sure that the media would decry it as “too harsh, too soon”. The legal system would have to take it’s time to work through the issue and render a verdict. In fact, in Mr. Sterling’s case, there is no legal system, no law was ever broken.
Second, I find it odd that the NBA finds it fitting to give someone a lifetime ban for speaking in unflattering terms about African-Americans to their mistress, yet, the act of having a mistress is swept under the rug. In the NBA’s eyes, the act of having a mistress must be acceptable behavior. Personally, I find this very perplexing. I can wrap my mind around the fact that saying what Mr. Sterling said is not acceptable. What I cannot my mind around is the fact that he is publically seen with his mistress is acceptable. Each of these transgressions are both egregious, yet one deserves punishment that is swift, certain and severe; the other, no one blinks an eye.
Finally, I am glad I don’t own an NBA franchise. From what I understand, 75% of the other owners must agree to the transaction that keeps Mr. Sterling from owning the Clippers. Now, the precedent has been set that saying something that is recorded in private is now means for a lifetime ban from the NBA. What percentage of NBA owners has said something that they would have regretted? I am going to guess that number is probably pretty high. I would tell you that if I had to cast a vote to take have Mr. Sterling sell the team,I would have hard time doing it under these circumstances. For me the most disappointing fact of this ugly situation is how the NBA pretty much put up with Mr. Sterling for all of these years. By all accounts, he ran a horrible basketball operation. He discriminated against African-Americans and Hispanics. The list of transgressions that brought himselfand the league disreputable publicity is long. Yet, for years the league did very little. In fact, you could argue that by not taking action, the league created the monster that Mr. Sterling became. It is clear he was never held accountable and now it’s painfully obvious what the results of a reckless life can become.
It’s only been recently that the Los Angeles Clippers have had success. If the Clippers were not in the playoffs, would this even be an issue? It’s a fair question to ask. They in sports, winning fixes everything, I don’t think that saying holds much truth for Donald Sterling.
William (Bill) Lutz is a Miami County resident and weekly contributor to the Piqua Daily Call