Sterling Set to take NBA to the Court
We all knew it was headed here. When NBA commissioner Adam Silver told the world that the league would fine Clippers owner Donald Sterling $2.5 million dollars and ban him from the league for life AND force him to sell his team, many of us had a feeling that Sterling wouldn’t go quietly into the night. And so he hasn’t disappointed. On Thursday night Sterling’s attorney notified the league that Sterling will not pay the $2.5 million dollar fine–which was due this week–and will sue the NBA if he is not given due process. Sterling may be a lot of things…stupid, desperate, a racist, callous, cheap, senile and the list goes on, but those things aren’t illegal. Some of those same adjectives may be applied to other NBA owners and if their private conversations were recorded, they may come out to public light.
My feeling on the issue is that the league fully expected to get backlash from Sterling but felt they had to come down quickly and harshly on him to make their point. The league is made up of predominantly white owners who’s teams are made up of predominantly black players. To act as if they tolerate the types of remarks that Sterling made would be sending the wrong message to the players. If the league had chosen to fine Sterling and make him stay away from Clippers games for a year, he might have tucked his tail between his legs and taken the beating. But to force someone to sell a property that he’s owned for 31 years and is worth $600, $700 million, maybe a billion dollars, well only an idiot wouldn’t expect a fight.
On top of that Sterling is no stranger to a courtroom, he has a reputation of suing people and has been in the middle of numerous lawsuits. He may have better grounds to win this one than most of the others. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was right on the mark the day after the telephone conversation was made public, when he said that it’s a slippery slope when you start dictating severe discipline for what someone says in a private conversation. If Sterling had acted on his apparent racist beliefs, paid black players less than white players, didn’t treat them the same on road trips etc. than there might be a stronger argument, but as Cuban suggested, is there another owner who has said something off color or sexist or anti-gay? If it was to their best friend in the corner of a party, who would know and would anyone care? But if it was secretly recorded and played for the world’s ears, would that owner also be told to hand over the keys to his team? Very doubtful.
Sterling is 82 years old and he may well be saying to his attorney’s, let’s fight this thing and stand up for my right to be stupid until I die. As O.J. Simpson and Oscar Pistorius have proven, a guy with the financial means can keep a case and trial going for years. Does the NBA want this PR nightmare hanging over them for that long? My guess is that the NBA will do what they intended to do all along, fine Sterling, suspend him for a long time and move on. Their bravado was mostly for show and it got rave reviews, now the reality sets in and they’ll want this in the rear view mirror.