Opinion: What Should Players, Coaches, NBA Do about Donald Sterling?
Los Angeles Clippers players threw their warmups before playing Saturday’s playoff game against the Golden State Warriors.
The Clippers played despite their owner, Donald Sterling, making racist remarks to his girlfriend saying not to bring ‘black’ people to his games, as reported by TMZ.
First and foremost, I have no issue with the Clippers players playing in Sunday’s game. It is the playoffs, and if it was a regular season, I think they probably would have sat out. The issue I have is simple, Sterling is the Clippers owner and employs an African-American head coach, and African-American players. Sterling is showing disrespect and ignorance as owner. He doesn’t set a leadership standard in that organization.
After the game on Saturday, Rivers was asked about returning home for Game 5:
“We’re going home now. Usually that would mean we are going to our safe haven. And I don’t even know if that’s true.”
Today, Rivers declined to speak with Sterling and canceled practice for non-basketball reasons.
I think Rivers did the right thing here. He gave his team ‘breathing’ room, and is allowing the NBA to investigate. Rivers, to me, is the perfect head coach to be able to handle this. He played in the NBA for 14 seasons, and has coached for 15 additional seasons. He’s won an NBA championship, and knows how to handle teams.
As for the players, how should they handle the situation? I think they should just listen to their head coach. Rivers gave them a day off from practice today, and is waiting out to see if more information comes along. The players played Saturday and did a little thing by wearing their warm-ups inside out. Some may argue that by playing they are letting Sterling win, but he cannot attend the games. I’m sure Rivers would let, say Chris Paul sit out if he felt like shouldn’t play. Going back home to play Game 5 may not feel right, or be a ‘safe haven,’ but the African-American players on the Clippers have earned the right to play because one of their own, Jackie Robinson, broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947. It’s their decision, but all in all, playing the game they love, I think, is the best way to heal, and the best way is turn your cheek.
Lastly, what step should the NBA take? Well, new commissioner Adam Silver has his hands full in his first year on the job. Silver has said that he will allow the NBA to investigate and Sterling to receive due process.
In the NBA, this isn’t the first time Sterling has made racial remarks, either. In a 2009 housing discrimination suit against Sterling, he said that, ‘African-Americans and Hispanics were not desirable tenants,’ or in a deposition he settled when he said, ‘blacks smell, they’re not clean,’ or ‘Mexicans just sit around and smoke and drink all day.’
The NBA didn’t do anything about that, and will they this time?
As stated by ESPN 99.1’s Jeff Thurn in his ‘JT in 60 Monday edition,’ there is no antitrust law in the NBA, like in MLB, that would make Sterling step down as Clippers owner. This makes it even more difficult.
NBA owners could use MLB’s model in 1993 and 1996 when they suspended and forced out Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott for racism. Schott called the Jews, “sneaky bastards,” and African-Americans, “gorillas.”
With no antitrust law, it will take a full investigation from the NBA, and stand from current NBA owners to make a decision that allows Sterling to stay or sell the team. Sports Illustrated’s Michael Roseberg shows how tough it might be, “Sterling does not work for Silver; Silver works for Sterling and other owners. Sterling owns his team. The NBA does not have a mechanism in place to get rid of a racist owner. As long as Sterling pays his bills, his ownership of the Clippers is inviolate..”
A bar owner can kick out a customer for being too loud, or starting fights, but Silver can’t force Sterling to sell the Clippers. That makes a lot of sense.
Silver has a tough decision, and one that David Stern should have made a long time, but didn’t. In a society, where African-Americans play professional sports, there should be no basis for a team owner as a leader to talk about race like that. Especially, when an African-American is the head coach, and has players that are African-Americans.
*For comments, or story ideas, email Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twiter @samtastad.