Greeson: Sterling gauge for Silver power

Greeson: Sterling gauge for Silver power

April 29th, 2014 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling sits courtside at the NBA basketball game between the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles on Sunday. On Saturday, April 26, 2014, the NBA said it is investigating a report of an audio recording in which a man purported to be Sterling makes racist remarks while speaking to his girlfriend.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

By now almost everyone knows of the tape that allegedly has Donald Sterling spewing hate speech and insults toward minorities.

He was caught -- unknowingly, mind you -- on tape with his diatribes and ignorance. It was a black eye for the entire NBA, and commissioner Adam Silver has called a news conference for today to address the possible punishments for one of the league's 30 team owners and a member of its board of governors.

This is hardly how Silver would like to spend his time. He has been the commissioner for less than three months. He should be enjoying a honeymoon and bouncing between this fantastic playoff series and that one, answering questions about how he wants to raise the draft age for college players.

This should be the salad days, but Sterling changed that -- in the time it takes to verbally form the words that forever can change an image, a day and a generation.

Sterling is reportedly worth $1.9 billion, according to Forbes, after a series of real estate investments in Southern California -- he has been called a slumlord over the years -- and owning the Los Angeles Clippers since 1981. He paid $12 million for the franchise then, and it is worth almost $600 million today.

And with that, the wet-behind-the-ears NBA commissioner is delivered as big a hurdle and potential disaster since Michael Jordan "retired" the first time to play baseball and arguably the biggest image threat to the game since a drug culture enveloped the game in the mid-1970s.

How do you handle a wealthy white owner talking to his reportedly minority girlfriend -- although there was not a lot made of the fact that Sterling's relationship with this women while being married is also very inappropriate -- who is being sued by the family for embezzlement? In the NBA, no less, where more that 75 percent of the players -- and almost all of its one-name stars -- are black?

This is a once-in-a-lifetime type moment for Silver, who has been forced to deal with Sterling, who apparently makes his insensitivity and ignorance a once-every-few-years matters.

Whether the tape was taken out of context or not, the NBA needs Sterling to go away. This can't be fostered or supported, not when you're talking about a guy with Sterling's racially divisive past -- he won an NAACP award for hiring minorities in executive positions but has been sued for sexual harassment, discrimination and wrongful termination, and for refusing to rent apartments to blacks or Hispanics and preferring Koreans.

The sentences and statements echo. The league's biggest names have taken a stand. Guys such as LeBron -- who joined his Heat teammates Monday night in a protest that matched the Clippers' on Sunday -- and Magic and Kobe and MJ have spoken clearly and cleanly that Sterling's point of view is not accepted. Nor should it be.

The ripple effects against the Clippers will leave lasting scars and permanent marks as long as Donald Sterling and his family are involved in the franchise. What players would want to work for the author of those types of hatred? What fans would look to support it? Already, more than a dozen corporate sponsors have either ended or suspended deals with the Clippers.

So we await Silver's announcement, wondering the limit of his powers against one of the league's owners. What will happen is unknown, but the possible actions can be guessed.

Expect an indefinite suspension and a seven-figure fine.

Expect the outcries from the anti-Sterling group that it's not harsh enough.

Expect the lamentations that the NBA shouldn't be able to make a man sell his team and the questions about free speech.

Please stop.

The cover of free speech rings hollow here, especially when reminded that speech may be free but hatred and ignorance and intolerance come at a price. Say what you want -- whether you are Nazis in front of the Hamilton County courthouse or Sterling or former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, who was forced to sell her baseball team for similarly offensive and hate-laced tantrums -- but know that there are ripples for every splash and actions for every stupid reaction.

So Sterling will be disconnected from the Clippers today, at least for the foreseeable future. Hopefully it will be a permanent divorce, for reasons that are right and for business practices that remain true.

If the Sterling family is allowed to keep control of an NBA team, it will affect the entire league, and while Sterling's actions are not those of a stupid criminal, they are arguably criminally stupid.

If Sterling stays as an owner, the Clippers are doomed. Who would want to play for him or support him or help him line his pocket with the one color we all know he loves -- green?

And that contrast and complex quandary falls on Silver this afternoon.

Whether Silver has the clout and the backing from the rest of the league to knock the hypocritical and bigoted Sterling from the NBA will be known today. It would be a bold move -- and the right one -- and it assuredly would be met with a briefcase of lawsuits from the notoriously litigious Sterling.

Several owners have expressed outrage and anger over the controversy, which has consumed the storyline from a thrilling first round of the playoffs. They know, that if Sterling was allowed to stay, it would be a black eye for the league and a scar for the brand. Sterling's presence would also all but end the competitive chances for the Clippers, because who would want to play for the NBA's most well-known racist?

Maybe the smartest reaction came from Clippers coach Doc Rivers, a black man who also is the team president and who said Monday he believes the voice on the tape is Sterling's and would not comment whether he would return to the Clippers next year.

Rivers said the longer the Clippers keep winning, the more this topic would be debated. And in a world where the undercurrent of racial intolerance can never be ignored, that's a very good thing.

Here's hoping the Clippers win the whole thing -- and that Donald Sterling is not there to experience a moment of it.