BY Art Thiel 06:23PM 04/29/2014

NBA’s Silver quells mob; Sterling still Sterling

NBA commissioner bans, fines Clippers owner Donald Sterling, promises to force him to sell. But what has Sterling to lose by fighting a league that has abandoned him?

For a rookie, he seized the moment boldly. Then again, what choice did Adam Silver have  — defend the indefensible?

The recorded racial beliefs of Clippers owner Donald Sterling, whe admitted to Silver were his, were so offensive on so many levels that new commissioner Adam Silver had to unload his full ordnance Tuesday in order to stave off a player revolt, even if the act of recording and disclosing a private conversation without Sterling’s permission apparently broke California law.

Some say Silver was thrown into a difficult situation. Certainly, the moment was awkward — coming in the middle of compelling playoffs and compromising a team in it — and the subject mortifying for a league that has had a leading reputation for equal opportunity in sports.

But how difficult emotionally could it be to blow up Sterling, a guy who gives dirtbags a bad name?

Silver’s decision to ban Sterling for life and fine him the NBA-maximum $2.5 million was basic. The decision to set in motion throwing him out of the club is more problematic, but nevertheless a step that needed to be done to avert a boycott.

Think about it: On what other topic beyond, say, the fact that sunshine is nice, have owners and players voluntarily reached agreement? Once Silver heard the admission from Sterling that the voice on the recording was his . . . game over. For the moment.

At a packed press conference in New York City, Silver spoke forcefully:

“The central findings of the investigation are that the man whose voice is heard on the recording, and on a second recording from the same conversation — that was released on Sunday — is Mr. Sterling, and that the hateful opinions voiced by that man are those of Mr. Sterling.

“Accordingly, effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life, from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA. Mr. Sterling may not attend any NBA games or practices, he may not be present at any Clippers facility, and he may not participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team.”

 Regarding the less defined punishment of ousting Sterling as owner, believed to be an unprecedented action in the modern NBA that didn’t involving gambling or financial insolvency, Silver was adamant that he would get the necessary three-quarters vote from his bosses, the owners.

“I fully expect to get the support I need to remove him,” Silver said.

But if Sterling, notoriously litigious in his real estate dealings, decides to fight the action, the NBA could be in for a headache. Besides acting on information that came from an illegal act, a lawyer could probably argue that the league had long been aware of Sterling’s views. And given all the stories already known and others being disclosed, the lawyer is probably right.

Silver attempted to thwart that notion. Answering media questions, he was asked if the decision was based partly on Sterling’s notorious “body of work.”

“In meting out this punishment we did not take into account his past behavior,” he said. “When the board ultimately considers his overall fitness to be an owner in the NBA, they will take into account a lifetime of behavior.”

That’s where it might be tricky — and a mortal embarrassment for Silver’s predecessor, David Stern, who knows everything on the record about Sterling’s previous misdeeds, and probably considerably more.

A vengeful Sterling might want to take to court his one-time protector and ask him under oath, “If I’m being punished for free speech, why was I not punished for actions that you knew to be discriminatory and against the league’s best interests?”

Relatively easy as it was for Silver to destroy Sterling’s Death Star, the villain survives. He might go quietly. He never has before. Nor, according to reporting done on his real-estate business, has he ever sold any of his acquisitions of significant value.

By his actions, Silver held off a threatened player boycott and, for the moment, capped a volcano. But the urgency for action, driven by emotions of the mob, has left Sterling with options. Why? Because he has nothing left to lose. Bigots are used to the world being against them.

Moments before Silver took the podium, longtime TV reporter Jim Gray reported that he had a phone conversation with Sterling, who told him the Clippers are not for sale.

The games go on. So may the fight.


  • Kirkland

    Lawsuit is a given, but kudos to Silver for an impressive pre-emptive strike. Now let’s see how good the NBA lawyers are.

    • art thiel

      I don’t know if a sports league has come across a mad-as-hell 80-year-old billionaire with nothing to lose.

      • maoling

        Even though he doesn’t make the late Marge Schott look any more cuddly, I think he’s beaten her to the top of the Cracker Barrel

        • art thiel

          It’s a high standard you set.

          It was good Marge got out before social media.

  • Jamo57

    Yes, the Stern legacy was certainly an unspoken undercurrent to today’s proceedings. Stern enabled this guy for decades and has been such an ‘inspiration’ for those frackers from OKC.

    On the one hand I think we would all like to see Sterling slither off into the night and go away, but on the other hand his testimony about being a welcome partner in the league for decades in a trial would be like a car wreck with us unable to take our eyes off it.

    • art thiel

      I’m sure the possibility has crossed the minds of NBA lawyers. But they had to play protest-free games tonight.

      • notaboomer

        why? so sterling could get some of his fine money back right away?

        • art thiel

          So all the owners make money, and give some of it to players.

          • notaboomer

            people who can afford $165 per ticket (clips avg. ticket price pre-playoffs) aren’t really going to protest imo.

  • Sam in Tucson

    Try this on. NBA buys out Sterling. Clippers are disbanded. Players are put in a dispersal draft. NBA expands by one. Expansion fee is used to reimburse the NBA for the Clippers purchase price and the rest is history!

    • art thiel

      Not a fit, Sam. NBA wants two teams in LA. Both are successful.

      • Gary

        Still dreaming up scenarios where the NBA returns…………Really! This scum bag has been a part of the good old boy club of NBA owners for years, elected in and tolerated. Do you think he is the only one with similar views? These guys keep showing their slimy underbellies, as Art so accurately calls it, to everyone and everyone wants them back?

        • art thiel

          I wouldn’t paint all the owners with the shame brush as Sterling, although many have business skeletons in the closet.

  • jafabian

    I’m a bit surprised at this. I’m sure a lot went on behind the scenes that the public doesn’t know about to reach this decision. Wish we were privvy to it. As much as I’d love to see the Clippers come here and get former Sooner Blake Griffin to wear a jersey that says Seattle that just won’t happen. Even Chris Hansen knows that won’t happen. If the Clippers can weather 25 years of bad basketball and never even entertain moving to another market then they’re fine.

    I’m wondering if Sterling reduces his stake in the team, becomes a minority owner, will that satisfy the league? It’d be less of a headache for all parties involved if that happens.

    • art thiel

      The union wants to cut all ties, and in this case, they have a strong hand. The NBA lawyers are very good at bullying, so Sterling will have himself a match.

  • Kim

    This will be interesting. After watching Stern operate, & taking into account Silver was hand pick by him, I find it hard to believe that all the pieces aren’t in place. Stern never seemed to bluff, he seemed to always have the deck stacked exactly as he wanted it before he got in front of a mic. That & the third day stories about Sterns past in this make it hard for me to believe he is not still lurking in the background wielding his considerable influence to bring this mess to a quick & quite end.

    • art thiel

      I don’t think Stern had much hand in the decision, because Sterling was someone he protected. This is clean-up only a successor could do.

  • Ray

    Glad you all joined the totalitarian heard! You might ask yourself what did I ever say or do that could not be seen in public? If I understand correctly UCLA return 3 million he gave them for kidney research. I guess Art never considered that some may have needed that help or that we do not live in utopia. I am glad to see free speech dead. Hope the journalist Art is to?

  • poulsbogary

    He will repent in public. He will make the necessary donations to the usual charities. And he will be welcomed back inot the fold. That’s how these things work. America loves a comeback story.
    HOWEVER. If he is booted and then there is a trial, weasel Stern will take the witness stand. Must see for all Sonic fans. But he will take the 5th.