Adam Silver has been the NBA commissioner for less than three months, but he’s already facing an issue that will be a big chapter in his legacy.
The tabloid media have released audiotapes purportedly featuring Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist remarks to girlfriend Vanessa Stiviano.
The voice has yet to be independently verified as Sterling’s, but Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Sterling’s wife are among those who say they believe it is him speaking.
In the audio, Sterling, 80, berates Stiviano, 38, for posting an Instagram photo with NBA legend Magic Johnson and being associated publically with black friends.
Don’t let the fact that Sterling has donated millions to the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP nor that the organization gave him a lifetime achievement award in 2009 and was about to give him another one next month fool you. The man is a bigot and this wasn’t his first public show of prejudice.
Sterling was sued by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2006 for allegedly refusing to rent apartments in Beverly Hills and Koreatown to black people. He paid a $2.73 million settlement in 2009, but his sworn testimony included racist comments about Hispanic and black tenants.
Now the question becomes, what does Silver do? There is no precedent, and predecessor David Stern never faced a similar challenge.
The NBA bylaws and declaration aren’t public documents so there is no telling what power Silver has in the situation. And don’t forget, as the commissioner, Silver works for the owners, including Sterling.
Do you force him to sell the team? If so, that is a situation that would likely be tied up in court for months, if not years.
If Sterling does sell the Clippers, that wouldn’t necessarily be a punishment. He bought the franchise for $12.5 million in 1981 when it was located in San Diego.
The most current Forbes magazine estimates the team is now worth $575 million. That price tag could go up since the team is experiencing success with young stars like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and has taken the glitzy, Hollywood spotlight away from the more traditionally popular and competitive Lakers.
Although Bud Selig isn’t necessarily the best role model for good sports executives, Silver could take a page out of the Major League Baseball playbook.
Baseball suspended former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott on two separate occasions after she made racist remarks toward black people and favorable comments about Adolf Hitler.
The one- and two-year bans were the MLB’s way of forcing Schott sell the team in 1999.
Selling the team may lead to Sterling making 46 times what he paid for it and could cost the NBA years of litigation and more money.
But can the NBA keep Sterling and people that think like him in its power structure? Especially when 76 percent of the players are black and 43 percent of the head coaches in the NBA are black, according to a 2013 University of Central Florida study.
For Clipper fans, the answer is clear. The color that Sterling likes the most is green.
If you want change, don’t go to the games, don’t buy concessions, don’t buy any Clipper merchandise and don’t watch the games on TV.
That’s the only way that Sterling will listen to anyone.
Yes, that would be hard, especially given the fact that the Clippers were bottom feeders for decades and are now experiencing success, but it’ll be worth it. Especially if Clipper fans want to keep the Paul-Griffin duo for years to come.