Slam dunk: The NBA’s fast break to racial justice on Donald Sterling


With his media conference in New York on Tuesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver elevated his game for America.

There was much talk that this would be a defining moment for the league. How about society?

By his actions, Silver was more than just NBA Commissioner.

He was the country’s de facto Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity Czar.


Since the weekend, the entire country has been gripped by the bigoted and racist comments of a man purported to be Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in secretly-recorded tapes.

The only defense might have been that the recordings were private, or that the voice was not Sterling’s.

But by acting swiftly, Silver created a model for other corporations and institutions that must deal with bigotry.

Silver talked about being shocked when he first heard the tapes, but he knew he had to “get to the bottom” of the issue quickly. Silver said there was a quick investigation, an interview with Sterling, and a final decision that Silver said was made just this morning.

A lifetime ban.

A $2.5 million maximum fine (to be distributed to groups working to fight bigotry and intolerance).

The urging of a forced sale.

Here was Silver’s opening statement at the media conference, essentially presented here whole, because I think it’s important to see a model corporate response. It begins with the announcement that the investigation has been completed:

The central findings of the investigation are that the man whose voice is heard on the recording and on a second recording from the same conversation…is Mr. Sterling and

that the hateful opinions voiced by that man are those of Mr. Sterling.

The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful; that they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage.

Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural, and multiethnic league.

I am personally distraught that the views expressed by Mr. Sterling came from within an institution that has historically taken such a leadership role in matters of race relations and caused current and former players, coaches, fans and partners of the NBA to question their very association with the league.

To them, and pioneers of the game, like Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Sweetwater Clifton, the great Bill Russell, and particularly, Magic Johnson, I apologize.

Accordingly, effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA. Mr. Sterling may not attend any NBA games or practices. He may not be present at any Clippers facility, and he may not participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team.

He will also be barred from attending NBA Board of Governors meetings or participating in any other league activity.

I am also fining Mr.Sterling, $2.5 million, the maximum amount allowed under the NBA constitution. These funds will be donated to organizations dedicated to anti-discrimination and tolerance efforts that will be jointly selected by the NBA and its Players Association.

As for Mr. Sterling’s ownership interest in the Clippers, I will urge the the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team and will do everything in my power to assure that that happens. This has been a painful moment for all members of the NBA family.

Silver also thanked the leadership of Clippers coach Doc Rivers, Players Association leader Chris Paul, and former player and current Mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson.

Said Silver: “We stand together in condemning Mr.Sterling’s views. They simply have no place in the NBA.”

Now why can’t every corporation in America take that kind of attitude on the thorny issues of race?

Indeed, I’m a little surprised at the strong stand by the NBA, considering recent Supreme Court rulings on race matters, statements by conservatives, Tea Partiers, and right-wing thought leaders on this issue and race issues in general.

Politically correct? That would be to talk to Sterling, maybe coddle the 80-year-old senior owner. After all, the league has known for years about the racist allegations that Sterling has dodged or settled–and let him be. Indeed, it’s no comfort to know he’s been the master at using race in a “divide and conquer” way in his real estate pursuits. His alleged preference for Asian American tenants in his properties, specifically Koreans, and refusal to rent to blacks and Latinos in Los Angeles Koreatown were particularly reprehensible.

But despite multiple lawsuits and a DOJ settlement that would suggest the true character of Sterling, the league did nothing until there was a secretly-made tape that revealed so convincingly his unrequited bigotry.

Surely, Sterling, a lawyer himself, will have an answer. And even if he is out, he still stands to make close to half a billion dollars on any forced sale.

So in some ways, it wasn’t all that hard for the NBA to act now. But given our current racial climate, no one knew morality could triumph so decisively, until Silver’s media conference.

And then it happened.

I gasped when I heard “lifetime ban.” After so many Solomonic decisions on race, I just can’t recall seeing a race issue handled as true and as fair and as decisively as this. Not in a long, long time.

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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