Donald Sterling’s a bigoted jerk, but NBA is in a difficult situation
BY RICK TELANDER Staff Columnist May 1, 2014 9:46PM
Updated: June 3, 2014 6:39AM
Yes, there are a lot of questions that need answering in this Donald Sterling mess.
The biggest one is, who’s going to buy the Clippers, when and if Sterling releases his clammy mitts from the franchise without a vicious, lawyered-up fight?
(That possible dust-up could be fun, by the way, in that the NBA could get splattered with a lot of deposed dirt en route. Like, are there other racist, piggish owners? How much did former commissioner David Stern know and when did he know it? Was Sterling’s privacy invaded?)
Some of the smaller questions have been solved.
Sterling’s real last name is Tokowitz.
Ex-girlfriend V. Stiviano was born Maria Vanessa Perez.
Sterling turned 80 last week; V. Stiv is 31.
Sterling doesn’t always wear bathrobes open to the navel while negotiating with first-round picks, though he did years ago in his living room while meeting with Danny Manning and agent Ron Grinker. According to Franz Lidz in this week’s Sports Illustrated, Sterling paused in the discussion to go upstairs and beat his misbehaving preteen son with a belt.
But the tape wherein the Clippers’ owner laments that Stiviano hangs around with black people, has her photo taken with Magic Johnson and even brings black people to Clippers games —that back story is still a bit cloudy. If the recording came, as has been reported, from a taped counseling session, how did it go public, viral and beyond devastating?
And, maybe the biggest question of all, should this censorship, fining and banning of an individual from an entire business be done based mainly on an audio tape recorded in private? Even if the guy is a bigot and profound jerk?
I expect TMZ and the National Enquirer to get on the stick and dig up more sordid details, pronto.
But the NBA, which came out of the initial tornado pure and stern and virtuous, might have some stormy times ahead. Indeed, the backlash from Sterling could be a troubling one. Adam Silver, the new NBA commissioner but a longtime sidekick of Stern’s, sounded as if he were announcing new commandments from Moses’ stone when he slowly and sonorously declared Sterling a pariah.
The proclamation was decisive. But let me say this: If Silver hadn’t come out and hammered Sterling as hard as he could, he would have had a vehement insurrection on his hands with offended NBA players. He might have done the right thing, but the wrong thing was not even an option.
“We weren’t going to accept anything but the maximum punishment,’’ Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. Indeed, he and his 14 teammates were going to walk off the floor after the jump ball Tuesday against the Clippers if Sterling wasn’t whacked.
So we’re left with a touchy, even dangerous situation.
Sterling must go. That much is clear. But in a league with an overwhelming majority of black players, all of whom are now on high-ethics alert, how does the league tamp down the fire and make ownership right?
According to a recent Forbes survey, the Clippers were ranked No. 13 in the 30-team league in value, with revenue of $128 million and a profit of $15 million. They’d likely sell for something a lot closer to a billion dollars, what with TV revenue only increasing.
So you gotta be rich to be in the running for ownership. Oprah Winfrey is rich. So is David Geffen. So is . . . well, there are a lot of rich people out in La-La Land, folks who might covet a bauble such as the Clippers as something to show off, status, like a massive ring.
So far, we know that Winfrey and Geffen want to get in with Oracle’s Larry Ellison and make a bid. So does — good Lord — boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Sean ‘‘Diddy’’ Combs, Rick Ross and Snoop Dogg have shown interest from the music and entertainment side. One shudders to think of Dogg in the owner’s chair, the man once called by Rolling Stone “America’s Favorite Pimp.’’ But crazy things could happen.
Silver, so clearly concerned about absolute political correctness, could help determine that Winfrey, Geffen and Ellison are just right.
Thus, an NBA franchise would be owned by a black woman, an openly gay man worth $6.2 billion who recently split with his male lover who was 41 years younger and Ellison, a software genius and sailor worth a mere $50 billion.
Throw in the gambling-mad Mayweather and you’ve got . . . oh, never mind.
How far will political correctness and image go here, Mr. Silver? And then there’s the question that is the only one that matters: Does anybody really care about basketball?