Donald Sterling’s gone — everything’s fine now

April 30, 2014 | Drew Forrester

While everyone is busy anointing Adam Silver as the new American poster child for dealing with rich-folks-who-step-out-of-line, I remain one of the few who wonder why it took the league until 2014 to get rid of Donald Sterling.

I’m also curious how the league took this — a domestic issue between a man and his partner — and turned it into a basketball story.

For starters, Donald Sterling is deserving of scrutiny for the comments he made last September that were tape recorded and, eventually, released to a tabloid website.

Let’s make sure we all agree on that.  His comments deserve scrutiny.  What he said to his girlfriend was, at worst, odd and out of date. At best his defenders might be able to say, “Donald’s an old nut job who wasn’t sure what he was trying to say, honestly.”

Time and time again yesterday I heard or read this line from observers who were reveling in the NBA Commissioner’s decision to ban Sterling for life:  “The punishment fit the crime.”

What crime?

There was a crime committed?

Oh, right, there was a crime committed.  Donald Sterling was tape recorded without his permission.

But did Donald Sterling commit a crime?

I must have missed that.

Did the punishment fit “the words”?  That’s really the issue.

Or is it?

I think a significant part of the issue is this:  Why was Donald Sterling an owner in the NBA in the first place?

He once said to a coach he was interviewing for the Clippers’ top job, “I wanna know why you think you can coach these n***ers.”

The NBA knew about that comment for two decades.

They did nothing at all about it.

But that was before Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, I suppose, so the only people who knew were the only ones who had to hide it.

I don’t blame Adam Silver for kicking Sterling out of the league yesterday.  Honestly, he didn’t have a choice.  The league he works for is filled with African American players.  If Silver didn’t go overboard — which, in this case, he clearly did — the repercussions might have not only cost him his job, but severely damaged the league as a whole.  Had Silver given Sterling a slap-on-the-wrist, there’s no telling what sort of tidal wave of discontent that would have caused.  It was much easier, and, admittedly, justified, to just send Sterling packing.

Silver acted quickly because he had to act quickly.  He was facing an embarrassing situation, one that might have resulted in having the Clippers refuse to play last night when they were scheduled to host the Golden State Warriors.  He also knew the old “safety in numbers” theory and probably thought – in the back of his mind – “what if Miami and San Antonio and Atlanta decide not to play their next game, too?”.

Everyone is applauding him for acting “so quickly and decisively”.

I say he had no choice.  I also say I’m not sure we’ve reached the root of the issue.

Donald Sterling didn’t commit a crime.

He said something stupid.

So did Charles Barkley when he said “It’s a black league”, but we don’t care all that much about Barkley because, A) he’s not an owner and B) we all know Barkely is wildly quotable and often times just says things to say them.

Forgetting for a second the surreptitious manner by which Sterling’s comments were obtained, what he said to his girlfriend wasn’t a crime.  It was an opinion.  An outdated one?  In my opinion, most certainly.  But, let’s not forget all he did was talk.  I’ll confess this to you, right now, and I assume in a moment of unguarded freedom with yourself, you’ll admit this as well.  I’m sure glad a tape recorder wasn’t present when I uttered “the worst thing I’ve ever said” about someone or something on a date and time I won’t disclose here and now.  I’ve confessed that sin to God and have been forgiven for it by Him, but I’m also man enough now to say, “Whew, I’m sure glad someone wasn’t taping me that day.”

What Sterling said to his girlfriend was a view he shared with her that didn’t specifically translate to his ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers.  That’s what I think, anyway.  It’s not like his team is the only one in the league that DOESN’T employ a black player.  I could see the translation between a racially charged kitchen conversation and his ownership of the team if, in fact, that tape recording also had him saying, “I mean, look at me, sweetie.  I’m the only guy in the league that refuses to employ a black guy.  I just won’t do it.  I’d rather lose every game with twelve white players than employ a black guy.”

Had he said something of that nature, there’s the connection you’d need to say, “OK Don, enough’s enough.  Your ownership days are over.”

He didn’t, though.  Sterling, like every other NBA owner, knows the truth about the league and quality of play.  You wouldn’t win twenty games a season with a team of twelve white players.  In order to win — which creates revenue — you have to employ both black and white players.  So, he employs them.

None of what I’m writing excuses Sterling for any of his previous transgressions, lawsuits, crazy comments or anything else contained in his Wikipedia page that openly identifies him as a racially insensitive bigot.

None of that, though, is “new news” to the NBA and the owners.  They just chose to ignore it until the real s**t hit the fan over the weekend.

I’m just not sure banning Sterling for life and trying, now, to take his team away from him because of something he said in a non-basketball-ownership conversation is the way we should be doing things these days.

The minute he said to Rollie Massamino in 1983, “How are you going to coach these n***ers?” he should have been on the hot seat.  True, those are “only words”, too, but they were words about people whom he was employing at the time.  In fairness to Sterling, since he’s getting little in the form of defense these days, not once in his conversation with the gold-digger did he use “the N word” or refer to African Americans in an insensitive way.  He was making a point to her about his beliefs; a culture he believes exists, even if in 2014, it likely doesn’t.

I found his 15-minute conversation to be confusing, rambling, non-sensical and archaic, but I wasn’t appalled by his use of racial epithets or anything of that nature because there weren’t any of those (that we heard…and I’m sure if there were any, we’d know of them by now.)

I hear far more appalling and deplorable language in the Ravens locker room than I heard on that tape, truth be told.  If nothing else, Sterling apparently grew up from his “N-Word” days of the early 1980’s.  That’s a triumph of sorts, I guess.

I do understand the ramifications of Sterling’s punishment yesterday and why it was important for Adam Silver to lower the boom on him, but I’m still wondering if we should all be overjoyed by it.  Is that how it works now?  If you say something about someone in the privacy of your home and it somehow gets leaked within your industry, are you liable to face the same treatment?

The Orlando Magic owner is an outspoken critic of gay marriage.

Is Adam Silver going to take the franchise from him?

We’re not that interested in him, now, but if three weeks from today he’s on tape saying, “These gay players in the league should just be put out to pasture, they’d rather be knitting something anyway” he’d be front page news.

Good luck trying to find a room full of people who all have the same beliefs and common thoughts about life, race, sex and politics as you do.  It’s America.  It’s a diverse culture these days.  We’re learning — and getting better — on certain levels and still stuck in the past in a lot of other ways.

One thing that’s happened, though, over the last decade or so is an almost unfair method of handling people who say something that offends a group of people.

Rather than just say to them, “You’re entitled to your opinion.  We’re entitled to our’s.  We think you’re an idiot.  Carry on.”, we try to figure out a way to serve them with some sort of ultimate punishment that shows we mean business.

We have reached the point in society now where we think this:  “Let’s just get rid of him (or her).  Get them out.  Exclude them.  That will change things.”

A bunch of kids at Columbine High School did that to two boys in 1999.  They excluded them.  Kicked them out.  Got rid of them.

The results of that situation were horrific.

Now, that’s what they’ve done with Donald Sterling.

He’s gone.

Twenty years too late, honestly, but he’s gone.