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In (an audio) recording (leaked by TMZ), the man believed to be Sterling questions his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, about her association with minorities. TMZ reports that Stiviano, who is black and Mexican, posted a picture of her with Magic Johnson on Instagram, a photo that has since been removed.A lot of people (myself included) were shocked and sickened upon the revelation of these alleged comments (However, one Clippers official broached the possibility the audio was altered). Many were quick to point out that the NBA is comprised of 75-80% black players, including 86% of the Clippers roster. But if indeed racism is so abhorrent (as I believe it is), the comments Sterling was purported to have made should be judged on its face, regardless of the environment in which he made them.
"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?" the man believed to be Sterling says. He continues, "You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that ... and not to bring them to my games."
From here, what sanctions does new commissioner Adam Silver levy in response to this incident? It would appear the most prudent action in the short term would be to not allow Sterling to attend any postseason games as long as an investigation is ongoing. If indeed it is verified that Sterling made such comments, what recourse does the league have? Can they somehow force Sterling to relinquish his ownership stake? If so, another question I have is should the NBA pursue such an option? On one hand there has been no evidence that Sterling ever made demands to not sign black players nor hire black coaches (e.g. current Clippers head coach Doc Rivers is black). So if the league is attempting to force him out based on his beliefs (as despicable as they may be), it gives an air of the league being some sort of "thought police." On the other hand, any pro sports league is heavily reliant upon good public relations. As such, they have an expectation that owners, management, coaches and players alike all act with a level of decorum both inside and outside their given sport.
This isn't the first time Sterling has been alleged to have engaged in racism. In 2009, he was sued by former general manager Elgin Baylor for racial and age discrimination upon his firing in 2008. The suit was ultimately rejected by a jury two years later. Away from basketball, Sterling was sued by the U.S. Dept. of Justice in 2006 for allegedly refusing to rent apartments to Koreans, Blacks and Hispanics within some of his real estate properties. A few years later, he agreed to pay nearly $3 million in fines, attorneys fees, court costs, etc.
Former NBA commissioner David Stern, who was in power from 1984 until this past February, was viewed as a no nonsense type of leader. If indeed there was any substantive evidence to Sterling being a racist, one would think Stern would have handed down some pretty hefty sanctions. That never happened. With that in mind, new commish Silver will have to make a decision based solely on the most recent allegations.
One thing is for certain: Silver is getting a monumental test in only his third month as NBA commissioner. Talk about "baptism by fire."