The reaction to Donald Sterling’s purported rationally insensitive rant (and that’s putting it politely) was expected.
Though the most prominent voices have featured the likes of President Barack Obama, basketball Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Charles Barkley, current stars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, and dozens of others, the response has obviously been far greater than that of a unified and outraged race. A nation, black and white, is appalled by an ignorant, billionaire NBA owner who many argue should no longer be connected with one of its favorite leagues, never mind the high-profile minorities it employs.
As commissioner Adam Silver and his league investigate the allegations surrounding the disgraced Clippers owner and what the immediate repercussions might be for a conversation that was thought to be held in private, there are countless questions to ask. Most surround the legal ramifications and what Sterling’s rights are personally, in conjunction with the league as a high-level fixture, and whether any fine or suspension will be permitted – or would do this travesty justice. And, of course, could Sterling lose his team, which many around the NBA feel is long, long overdue for a well-known bigot, who just so happened to date a young, biracial woman.
For answers to many of those questions, Massachusetts attorney Michael McCann wrote a tremendously detailed post on Saturday evening for Sports Illustrated on the steps the league must take to potentially rid itself of its own black mark.
Personally, however, I’m less concerned with Sterling’s future and more so with that of the Clippers, recognizing those may very well go hand in hand.
The long-struggling red-headed step-brother of the Lakers is finally playing well, fully equipped with star power and a capable, championship-winning coach. After years of torturing its fans with bad hires, worse drafting, and financial skimping, the Clippers enjoyed their best regular season in franchise history under Doc Rivers, amassing 57 wins and only their second first-place division finish in 44 years (and also the second in a row). The Clips, though, have never been beyond the conference semifinals, which may change this season if Rivers and his players can put what he’s already termed a “distraction” behind them against the Warriors and whoever might wait ahead.
But, what then?
Rivers played for the Clips under Sterling’s watch and certainly knew what type of individual he was signing up to work for when he orchestrated a trade from the Celtics last summer. He still went, whether for the power, control, improved chance to win, or any other contributing factor. It’s worked out for him, save for that not-so-little issue of reporting to a racist.
Many in Boston, present company included, mocked the coach for the “will he, won’t he” debate over whether he’d return the next year after each grueling season with the Celts but now, it’s a legitimate question. Can he stomach a return to Los Angeles in 2014-15 if Sterling remains the team’s owner?
What about his players?
Stars Blake Griffin and NBPA president Chris Paul are both under contract for the next four seasons. How comfortable are they feeling about their futures in Lob City, having to look a man in the eye who privately discourages an association with African Americans? DeAndre Jordan is entering the final year of a deal that will pay him $11.4 million. Could he be an expiring contract that demands his way out of town? Most other key players are on the books for at least two more seasons.
How about free agents?
NBA agent Chris Luchey responded to a question on that subject on Twitter Saturday evening, saying he’d advise clients to stay away from the Clippers in light of Sterling’s comments. He told Basketball Insiders writer Alex Kennedy, “No room for this ignorant perception, ZERO tolerance for racism! Let alone those that have helped build your empire.”
It’s hard to believe Luchey is alone in that thinking among agents, and it’s a very safe bet the majority of the league’s players feel the same, since many have spent the last 12 hours calling for his head.
Kennedy also reported that a pair of 2014 draft prospects told him they don’t wish to be selected by the Clips on account of Sterling’s remarks. So much for everyone flocking to play for Rivers.
But, as noted by the CBSSports.com post, only time will tell if tempers will cool, if in fact Sterling remains true to his mantra of never selling anything and maintains his ownership of the Clippers. Los Angeles is a tough destination to balk at, especially when it will have plenty of money to spend this offseason.
It’s a shame Silver has to deal with issues of tanking and race immediately in his tenure, and significantly more troubling that racism is still so prevalent in a society that, to its credit, makes bigger strides toward equality in all walks of life by the year. An NBA owner shouldn’t be lagging behind.
One man’s ignorance shouldn’t punish a league, city, fan-base, coach, or player, but all have been deeply affected and disgusted.
Eventually, as it has with Sterling in the past, the drama will quiet down and the distractions will disappear. I can’t help but wonder what the response will be around the league if Sterling is still around when it does.
Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman