One of the biggest controversies, not only in the NBA but throughout the entire sports world this year, was the infamous recordings of Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Immediately after the tape was leaked online, everyone from executives to NBA players and celebrities put in their two cents about how vile the statements found within the recordings were. Prior to Commissioner Adam Silver’s decision to punish Sterling, coach Doc Rivers along with his Los Angeles Clippers’ players, stated that there was a possibility of them walking out of their series with the Golden State Warriors. Despite how ashamed of their owner they were, the coach and players realized they would do more harm than good to the NBA by forfeiting their chance to extend their playoff run. Now, with only months before the start of the season, Rivers is rumored to be planning to quit the team unless the owner is gone from the franchise once and for all. They may find that they get little satisfaction, however, from a walkout aimed at protesting Sterling’s actions.
There is little doubt in the minds of most observers that Donald Sterling is a racist. For a league that has a significant number of African-American players, it should not be surprising employees are still disgusted over the statements of the controversial owner. As a result, Adam Silver has done everything in his power to banish Sterling from the league by handing him a lifetime ban along with a $2.5 million fine. Initially, the owners were going to enact a vote which, under NBA rules, allowed the league to force the ousted owner to sell the team. However, just as his removal began, Donald’s wife, Shelly Sterling, struck a deal to sell the team for $2 billion to Steve Ballmer. When this deal was struck, it appeared everything was finalized. Donald appeared to be happy for his wife in making the deal, despite finding himself stripped of the family trust. He appeared to be moving on.
As is typically the case with Sterling, acted irrationally not long after the sale was agreed upon. The billionaire sued the league and Silver for $1 billion accusing the NBA of supposedly stripping his constitutional rights. Since then, Sterling has been at war in a bizarre court case where he has lashed out against his estranged wife and the NBA. With a decision set to be made Monday, Sterling has promised to continue fighting the NBA regardless. This is exemplified by yet another suit filed this week where the owner lists his wife, Silver and the NBA as defendants for violating corporate law and fraud by attempting to sell the team. Now, with another court case coming and the deadline for the sale approaching on August 15, it appears as though the removal of Sterling is not imminent.
Due to the unpredictable nature of the removal of Stern, star point guard Chris Paul has stated that he has spoken once again to Doc Rivers about sitting out the 2014-2015 season until Sterling has finally been removed. While Paul, who also serves as the National Basketball Player’s Association president, has spoken about how he will lead a player boycott on the Clippers. Rivers has been on record saying that he may quit the team.
The problem with their reasoning in not wanting to be part of a franchise owned by a racist billionaire, is that it is hypocritical. Prior to Chris Paul being traded to the Clippers and Doc Rivers having orchestrated a way out of Boston to become coach and team president, there was already significant evidence that Sterling was a racist. Elgin Baylor is a former NBA great, who also served as Clippers’ GM for 22 years. During his exit, he filed a lawsuit which made allegations of racist motivations for his firing. It also discussed how he believed that Sterling had a plantation mentality. Additionally, Baylor stated that the owner would ask his guests to check out his squad’s “beautiful black bodies.”
If that was not enough, Sterling, who also is a real estate owner, had been sued several times for not allowing minorities to stay in his properties. In 2006 this was proven when he was brought to court, but instead of admitting to his questionable opinions, he had one of his insurance companies pay out a $2.75 million sum in a settlement. During the case, Sumner Davenport, one of the top property supervisors for Sterling, claimed that the Clippers owner made a comment where he said “That’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean.” Even further back in 1983, former coaching candidate Rollie Massimino was asked by the owner how he would coach these players. Sterling used the N-word to describe them when asking the question.
Doc Rivers and Chris Paul may very well have been offended by Sterling’s audio recording. However, in no way, shape or form was this recording the first public evidence of the owner having racist opinions. Rivers, along with a plethora of players through the years, have ignored Sterling. They have taken his money to coach and play basketball. The only difference is that this time, Sterling’s actions were front and center. Due to Rivers and Paul being the leaders of the Clippers, they had to say something, and if there is one way to make a statement, it is to threaten a boycott.
The question at the forefront of this situation is whether or not the Clippers’ personnel will actually follow through with boycotting the team. Back in May, there was a threat to leave the team, which eventually led to nothing. If they really are planning to boycott the league, they have to look at the big picture. Not only are they sacrificing their own wins, but they are creating a defunct season for themselves. Either the rest of the 29 teams will have instant wins on their record or a complete schedule revamp would have to be enacted. A worse possibility yet would be that the NBA could go on hiatus. Every time the league has had a lockout situation, it has taken time to regain those basketball fans again. A walkout, even for the sake of a purportedly moral cause such as throwing Sterling out, would likely have the same effect and provide little satisfaction.
If players and coaches walk out, substantial money would be lost on all sides. Contracts, especially with sponsors, would be voided. Most importantly, this boycott that Paul and Rivers are leading, essentially, would not be against Sterling. The Los Angeles Clippers owner is banned from ever stepping foot in an NBA facility again. He also is not allowed to partake in any NBA transactions. The only thing the controversial owner can do is pay his employees. Boycotting will hurt the NBA. Silver made a bold move by banning and fining the owner. With only a few months on the job, he proved that he would not back down from controversy. In essence, by walking out of the NBA due to Sterling technically acting as owner is a slap in the face to Silver, whose hands are tied.
The only thing that can hasten Sterling’s removal from the Clippers is a ruling or multiple decisions in favor of the NBA. Much like other court cases, however, the process will take a while. It is rumored that Sterling will still be in place at the start of the season. The hard truth is that he very well could last the entire 2014-2015 season. Sterling has little to no contact with anyone associated with the Clippers aside from funds coming from his bank account.
On the surface, is it admirable that Doc Rivers and Chris Paul want to make a stand against Donald Sterling. If they truly want to make a stand against him, however, their best move would be to act as though he has no part of the team anymore. Adam Silver, based on his actions since taking office, deserves better. If the Los Angeles Clippers walk out of the 2014-2015 season, it would do more harm than good to the league’s future. Worst of all is that if there is a walkout, Donald Sterling will have won. He single-handedly will have given a black eye to the NBA, which is exactly what he wants. If Chris Paul and Doc Rivers are smart, they will not allow their soon-to-be former owner that satisfaction.
Commentary By Simon Mounsey