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Sterling's lifetime ban from NBA a fitting punishment

Photo: Mark J. Terrill/AP

Donald Sterling has owned the Clippers for 33 years, but the NBA is seeking to force a sale.

In the interest of fairness, let's give equal time to the people supporting Donald Sterling.

(Waits.)

Hello? Anyone?

Think about this. Donald Sterling bought an NBA team 33 years ago. He had 33 years to make a few friends, buy rounds of drinks, pick up dinner checks, quietly donate to somebody's charity, pay off a hospital bill ... all the simple things a billionaire can do to make people think he is a decent guy.

Now here is Sterling, suspended for life and being told to sell the Los Angeles Clippers, ostensibly because of something he said in a private conversation that he didn't realize was being recorded. And nobody is defending him. Nobody has said "That's not the Donald Sterling I know."

Not one person! That may be the only perfect record in NBA history.

Let's understand something here, while we all carry commissioner Adam Silver around the nation on our shoulders: A lifetime ban, and a forced sale of a team, is an extreme reaction to a private conversation, even one as offensive as Sterling's with his "girlfriend," V. Stiviano. What if another owner says similarly dumb things? What if he says them while drunk? What if an owner says half of what Sterling said, or claims his words were taken out of context?

Well, Silver will figure it out then. For all his talk about "due process," this was not about the means, but the end.

NBA owners can't stand Donald Sterling. They could live with him while his team was losing, because that made it easier for everybody else to win. But now? Forget it.

"I didn't poll the owners" about support to force Sterling out, Silver said, but that is because he didn't have to poll the owners. He knew how they felt. Everybody around the league knew. Very quickly Tuesday, owner after owner released statements supporting Silver's desire to kick Donald Sterling out of the league. Thirty-three years, and they can't wait to get rid of him.

NBA commissioner issues lifetime ban to Sterling
Sports Illustrated's Maggie Gray and Chris Mannix discuss NBA commissioner Adam Silver's decision to impose a lifetime ban on Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

So nobody seems to care that Magic Johnson is driving the Sterling Must Go bandwagon while privately angling to buy the team, as Yahoo Sports reported. That's one hell of a conflict of interest, but who will side with Donald Sterling against Magic Johnson?

Nobody seems to care that the punishment may be legally unsound. But Sterling will. Sterling has always fought harder in courts than on the basketball court, and it will surprise nobody if his pitbull attorneys start biting Silver's ankles. The game is not over.

Silver is extremely smart. He knew Sterling would fight back, and his lawyers and the other owners surely know Sterling has a fighting chance. Courts are not supposed to rule based on public opinion. Sterling has a legitimate legal defense: His disgusting comments were part of a private conversation, and he has been far more willing to hire African-Americans in prominent positions than some of the owners who will vote to get rid of him.

NBA world reacts | Full Silver transcript | NBAPA applauds | Sterling: I'm not selling

The owners will take their chances, because Sterling is 80 or 81 years old, depending on what source you trust, and they are willing to fight him in the courts until he gives up or dies.

Sterling was banned for life, but really he was banned for his life, for the way he lived it and the things he said over many years. For all the great things Silver said Tuesday, this was so absurd as to be funny: "We did not take into account his past behavior."

Of course they did. Thirty-three years of past behavior, and nobody could find a reason to let him stay in the club. Thirty-three years, and they can't stand his company for another day.

"I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers' organization or the NBA," Silver said. "Mr. Sterling may not attend any NBA games or practices. He may not be present at any Clippers facility ..."

The punishment may or may not fit the crime, but it absolutely fits the man. To Sterling, tenants existed to make him rich, women were there for sex, players were just hired performers, and fans were sheep who kept him in business, no matter what he did for them.

Now the NBA views Donald Sterling as cynically as he viewed everybody else. He served them no purpose any more, so goodbye. He is 80 or 81 and they will fight him until he is 85 or 86, or 97 or 98. Whatever it takes, for however long it takes. What a sad way to end a life.

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