Donald Sterling is (currently, at least for the next several hours/days) the longest-tenured owner in the NBA; he’s been in that role with the Los Angeles Clippers for 33 years. Normally, that would be a major badge of honor — think of something like the Hunt family and the Kansas City Chiefs, for example — but in seemingly every major context, it’s been a disaster for the Clippers. In those 33 years, they’ve made the playoffs seven times — although three of those seven are the last three seasons, including this one — and lost 50 or more games 22 times. They’ve won 19 playoff games — not series, but games (series wins: two) — and just for the sake of comparison, their co-tenants at Staples Center (the Lakers) have won nine championships in the same span (series wins? 63). On-court, then, the Clippers haven’t been stunning.
Of court, their owner’s issues are fairly well-documented: see here, here, here and here. One of the rare longer-form profiles of Sterling was captured in ESPN The Magazine by Peter Keating back in 2009. That piece opens up with some of the most damning allegations before the current swarm arrived:
For more than two years, Sterling has been staring down federal civil rights charges related to his real estate holdings and rental practices. According to the Justice Department, Sterling, his wife and three of his companies have engaged in discrimination, principally by refusing to rent to African-Americans. In February, Elgin Baylor, the Clippers GM from 1986 to 2008, filed an age and racial discrimination suit against his old boss alleging, among other things, that Sterling repeatedly expressed a desire to field a team of “poor black boys from the South … playing for a white coach.” Sterling’s attorneys have denied the accusations. And even as these controversies swirl around him, Sterling is here tonight to receive a lifetime achievement award from the local chapter of the NAACP.
Much of Sterling’s checkered history deals with race, as in refusing to rent to African-Americans, the issues with Elgin Baylor, the “poor black boys” comment, and the current situation, revolving primarily around audiotapes in which he exhorted his (apparent) girlfriend to not bring black people to games and/or take pictures with African-Americans (i.e. Magic Johnson) on platforms such as Instagram.
While much of the context around Sterling has undoubtedly been racial, he’s actually had comments and run-ins of a sexist/misogynistic nature as well. There’s this, from Think Progress:
While demanding that his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, not bring black people to his games, Sterling makes it clear that he doesn’t care if she “sleeps with them” or “f***s him” (referring to Magic Johnson). He demeans her directly, calling her “stupid” and repeatedly telling her she doesn’t understand what he’s saying. He refers to her as a “born fighter” — “all you ever want to do is fight” — while telling her that they should end their relationship because he needs “a girl that will do what I want.” He wants her to conform to what it is he thinks she should be, a “delicate white or delicate Latina girl” (she’s biracial) because she doesn’t know “what people think” of her. At no point is it evident that Sterling views Stiviano as anything else but his temporary trophy, his property, a woman who should conform to what he wants whether than who she is. He’s a bully and a misogynist.
And then there’s this, from The Week:
* A former employee sued Sterling for sexual harassment, alleging that he ordered her to find him masseuses who “will, you know, let me put it in or who [will] suck on it.”
* He hired “hostesses” to work parties, one of whom called it the most “demoralizing, dehumanizing experience of my life,” and claimed she was asked to provide semi-nude photos.
* Sterling’s own testimony from a lawsuit with a former mistress, to whom he paid $500 every time she “provided sex” for him: “When you pay a woman for sex, you are not together with her… “You’re paying her for a few moments to use her body for sex. Is it clear?”
*From the same testimony: “I wouldn’t have a child and certainly not with that piece of trash. Come on. This girl is the lowest form.”
*And again, in the same testimony: “Every secretary is honey. I’m a flowery man. If you’re having sex with a woman you’re paying for, you always call her honey because you can’t remember her name.”
With the awful part behind us, now comes the hard part: what does the NBA do? The logical step is a “call for his head” situation, which you’re already seeing from many players and owners — although, as Mark Cuban has noted, the idea of removing him is a very slippery slope. Here’s why: under the NBA constitution, the commissioner (now Adam Silver) is only allowed to remove an owner for gambling. As Cuban notes:
“What Donald said was wrong. It was abhorrent. There’s no place for racism in the NBA, any business I’m associated with, and I don’t want to be associated with people who have that position.
“But at the same time, that’s a decision I make. I think you’ve got to be very, very careful when you start making blanket statements about what people say and think, as opposed to what they do. It’s a very, very slippery slope.”
Adam Silver’s speaking at 2pm ET today about the Sterling situation, so more clarity will be gained then; one idea that’s been floating around — including from Rockets owner Leslie Alexander — is the idea that all Clippers could become free agents after the season, which would be a major step towards essentially forcing Sterling out of the NBA.
Racism and sexism aren’t in a pissing content by any means — they’re both bad — so being offended by any aspect of Sterling’s both documented and alleged behavior over the years is well within your rights (and your heart, and your logic, etc.) This chess move situation with Silver, though — he needs to make sure he both comes across as punishing a bad person while also not letting the other millionaire/billionaire owners feel like the rules are too vague — is going to be interesting. In the broadest sense, though, the one thing you can say about the Sterling context is this: even though the team was trending a bit upward with the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin-Doc Rivers dynamic, there’s still a whole lot (a whole lot) of karma tied to his 33 or so years as owner — maybe that’s a sign that the bad guys do often finish last, even if we feel that isn’t often the case in sports.