By C. Harold Pierce
It couldn’t get much worse for Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver lowered the hammer Tuesday for racist statements Sterling made, banning him for life from any Clippers games, imposing a $2.5 million fine and vowing to oust him from the exclusive club of about 30 NBA teams’ owners.
“I will urge the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team and will do everything in my power to ensure that that happens,” Silver said in a press conference Tuesday.
It is the strictest punishment handed down to a franchise owner in NBA history.
The scandal stemmed from racist remarks made during a private conversation between the 80-year-old Clippers owner and his 31-year-old girlfriend Vanessa Stiviano that went viral last week.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people,” Sterling said in the nine-minute recording, referring to an Instagram photo Viviano posted of her posing with hall of famer Magic Johnson. “Don’t bring him to my games,” he said.
NBA officials have been quick to distance themselves from Sterling. A three-fourths majority vote required to force Sterling to sell the team will take place as soon as possible, Silver said.
As startled as many were this week to hear the racist remarks on the radio and blasted across headlines, most people have been aware of it for more than 30 years.
His prejudices have been well documented.
He is a redlining landlord who refused to rent to Latinos, blacks and Koreans. The resulting federal lawsuit alleged that Sterling said “black people smell and attract vermin.”
Sterling’s infamous Gatsby-esque “white party” galas in Malibu each year didn’t help his image. Neither did a lawsuit by former Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor for alleged discrimination.
Baylor and Oprah Winfrey have even likened his management style to that of a plantation owner.
The racism isn’t that surprising. Sterling is 80-years old and a product of another generation. Those who think racism no longer exists are fooling themselves.
That it comes from the mouth of a man who employs, works with and depends on African Americans for income is disparaging.
But he has every right to say it.
Sterling doesn’t deserve to own an NBA team, but ousting him from ownership for his personal beliefs is an assault on basic first amendment rights.
His disdain for black people as he lords over them from the center court line makes him no better than a slave master. Sterling’s plantation mentality might be antiquated, but so is the constitution. Americans should be cautious before trampling over either.