While 16 NBA teams engage in the greatest first round of the NBA playoffs in recent memory, the news cycle was dominated this weekend by an appalling recording released by TMZ that contained racist remarks attributed to Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The basketball world has been in an active state of response since, from players, coaches and owners to sponsors and media outlets. Below is a collection of such responses.
• Saddling the players themselves with the responsibility to boldly respond to Sterling's comments, writes Phil Taylor, seems to excuse those who allowed him to stay in a position of power for so long:
...it's not fair to place the burden of addressing the Sterling problem on the players, black or white, and it's particularly misguided to expect African-American players to take some drastic action like a boycott. It is not the responsibility of African-Americans to "fix" racism, certainly not the institutional racism that allowed Sterling to thrive. Instead of wondering how Rivers or his players could work for Sterling, think about how the other NBA owners could continue to do business with him all these years. Ask former commissioner David Stern, who accepted so much flowery praise upon his recent retirement, why he was more concerned with matters like fining Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for criticizing the refs than he was with finding a way to give Sterling the smackdown he deserved.
• Michael Rosenberg on the problems in process the NBA now faces: "Silver's challenge now: He has to show Sterling the door, but he probably can't force him out. This is like trying to get a man to leave your party when he owns the building."
• Amid all the "no place in our league" rhetoric, Michael McCann laid out some creative courses of action for the NBA:
Removing Sterling from the NBA, however, may not be necessary to effectively remove him from the Clippers. The NBA could suspend Sterling indefinitely and encourage him to sell the team. The Sacramento Kings were sold last year for an amount that equates to $534 million. It stands to reason the Clippers—which Sterling purchased in 1981 for $12.5 million—would be worth well in excess of $700 million.
The NBA could take a bolder step and take over the day-to-day operations of the Clippers, much like Major League Baseball did with the Dodgers and its embattled owner, Frank McCourt. The Dodgers, however, were experiencing payroll problems; there is no reason to believe the Clippers are experiencing any financial troubles.
The NBA must also be concerned about the possibility of Sterling suing the NBA and owners, such as for breach of the Clippers franchise agreement or for violations of federal and state antitrust law. NBA franchise agreements contain language that limit the ability of owners to sue the NBA and other owners. This language is known as "waiver of recourse", which means that an owner, by virtue of owning an NBA team, voluntarily waives away legal recourses he or she might otherwise have against the NBA and owners.
• Ben Golliver ran through Sterling's history of racism (much of which was testified under oath) and the initial response to this latest story from around the league.
From around the web:
• At long last Sterling will face long overdue judgment. From Paul Flannery of SB Nation:
Sterling is finally now the league’s problem. For reasons that have never been properly explained or examined, David Stern gave him what amounted to a lifetime free pass. His fellow owners did the same. Sterling was one of Stern’s greatest blind spots, a wretched blot on a league that likes to present itself as a shining beacon of enlightened thought and progressive views. That’s over now too, the myth exposed by its greatest hypocrisy.
• Some context in all this: According to tabulation by Mona Chalabi of FiveThirtyEight, 76 percent of the NBA's players and 43 percent of its coaches are African-American.
• At ESPN.com, J.A. Adande expands on the difficulty of linking a conversation regarding an Instagram photo to any piece of actionable evidence:
[Sterling] didn't explain why he had no problem publicly associating with a woman who was black and Mexican. There's so much cognitive dissonance when it comes to Sterling, whether it's the reconciliation that must be made by anyone who works or roots for his team, or his personal lifestyle and hiring practices with the Clippers that don't seem to jibe with his prejudiced views.
The last part isn't just the grist for a psychological study, it could be what ties the NBA's hands. When it comes to the Clippers, Sterling's track record for diversity at key positions can stand with any team in the league.
In a statement, Clippers president Andy Roeser says "Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them."
Baylor was one of the longest tenured African American general managers, and the Clippers have hired four African American head coaches (plus two interim coaches) -- including current coach Doc Rivers.
It would take a very nimble lawyer to stretch Sterling's alleged objection to an Instagram account into a workplace discrimination issue.
• Perhaps the most damning thing of all in this Sterling mess: While not as overtly racist or unambiguously disgusting, many of the NBA's other owners have skeletons of their own.
• Among those sponsors to pull their support of the Clippers since Sterling's recorded comments surfaced: State Farm Insurance, CarMax, Kia Motors America, Virgin America and Red Bull.
• This is a factually accurate depiction of the issue at hand, complete with Blake Griffin dunking Sterling through the rim and Sterling's girlfriend projectile vomiting mid-argument:
via SB Nation
• Lost, perhaps, amid Sterling's racially charged comments on the tape in question was his characterization of his own role in the NBA. From Tim Marchman of Deadspin:
Sterling isn't just lauding his own generosity out of narcissism here; he clearly sees it as the foundation of his economic relationship with his players. He's the selfless patron whose magnanimity allows them to express themselves through the game, freed from any worldly concerns. Players are mere passers-through, easily replaced minor characters in an ongoing drama in which he, along with his fellow owners, plays a central, deciding role. There's us and there's them, and Sterling has always been on the right side of that divide. This is why no one ever did anything about him.
It's worth thinking about how ridiculous this is. A man whose $12.5 million investment in the Clippers is now worth 50 times that due entirely to the efforts of men much better than him imagines that his oligarchic wealth is, rather than freak luck, a just reward for adventurous risk-taking. As he tells the story, old men who interpose themselves between ballplayers and the public and skim off billions of dollars are the true heroes of sports history. (Never mind the various ways the already-rich men who own sports franchises are cosseted from risk, and never mind the many, many advantages conferred on them by the tax code, by the taxpayers who pay for their stadiums, by the current disposition of anti-trust law, and so on.) Somewhere in Sterling's diseased mind is a perfect crystallization of America's triumphal brand of capitalism.
• Further elaboration on the process of the league's investigation of Sterling and where the NBA can go from here, courtesy of Ken Berger of CBS Sports.
• An anonymous NBA player makes an important distinction to Dave Zirin of The Nation: This isn't a scandal because an NBA owner is a racist, but because he was caught making racist comments in a way that was public and could not be obscured.
One NBA player, whom I will not name, got in touch with me and just said, “I don’t doubt he’s racist, [but] I’m astounded (not shocked) that the league hasn’t taken action before. What concerns me is that the league is clearly only concerned with him possibly being a racist because he got caught, not because he is… Racism is being allowed as long as our customers and employees don’t find out.”
• Adam Silver will announce the result of the NBA's investigation on Tuesday, but no matter the result this is only the beginning of a much larger process.
• An editorial from "Sterling" himself, as published by The Onion:
However, at this early juncture, we must keep in mind that the the recording of this anonymous individual remains unauthenticated. But while it is as yet impossible to say who that voice actually belongs to, I have to admit that the person in question certainly made some compelling points.
• This entire episode is framed within the Clippers' change of standing in the NBA, which seemed to both paint over Sterling's racist past and draw more attention to this latest story. From Billy Witz of the New York Times:
It was that status, as a cartoonish organization operating in the shadow of the Lakers, that left so few taking the Clippers seriously. But in recent years, their image — and Sterling’s — has begun to change. In the last three seasons, the Clippers have been a winning team — something that had happened just twice since Sterling purchased the team 33 years ago — and a marketable one, too.
Last summer, the Clippers hired Doc Rivers, one of the most respected coaches in the league. At the end of his introductory news conference, he was asked one final question. Having played for the Clippers in the early 1990s, was he uncomfortable working for a team still owned by Sterling?
“It’s different now,” Rivers said with a smile.
• Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sees Sterling's recorded remarks as only a small portion of a much larger problem. I might dispute some of his characterization or specifics, but Abdul-Jabbar's broader point is not untrue.
• It's something of a shame -- albeit a far lesser one, given the bigger-picture impacts of specific and institutional racism -- that a fun, competitive series between the Clippers and Warriors will now be held under Sterling's shadow.
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