SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

May 1, 2014

NBA shouldn't have waited 33 years on Sterling

The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday, April 30:

Draping his league bosses in undeserved nobility, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Tuesday banned for life and fined a team owner whose bigotry had embarrassed professional basketball — during the playoffs! “We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views,” Silver said. “They simply have no place in the NBA.”

What about all the other outrages of Donald Sterling’s 33 years as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers? What about the long history of lawsuits (including a federal housing discrimination lawsuit settled for $2.76 million) for all manner of ugly statements? Did those behaviors have a place in the NBA — but this one didn’t?

Sterling’s fellow owners can pretend that his sin is his egregious disrespect for his players, his team’s fans, his league and the game that binds them. But that isn’t new. Sterling’s sin is that he got caught on a microphone. He made a scene.

His fellow owners, having looked away for years, couldn’t look away. Not this time, they couldn’t.

Not with lucrative sponsors fleeing, and murmurs about a possible player revolt, and fears of what all might happen when the Clippers opened their doors for a home game.

So Sterling’s fellow NBA owners finally did what had to be done. Then they dispatched the hapless Silver to report their heroic deed, as if to have him cut down the nets. And the rest of us are supposed to applaud?

Because they didn’t deal with Sterling long ago, the owners invited a situation in which one man’s ugly words could remind American society that too often we let people divide us into tribes.

Will anyone walk away from l’affaire Sterling saying that the NBA, with swift and sure punishment, has helped bring us together? No. The takeaway here is that the NBA’s long inaction allowed one foolish man to write a chapter in its history. This from a league that once helped to integrate pro sports, and whose players are predominantly minorities.

We give the final word to a competitor, New York Times sportswriter Juliet Macur, because in three simple sentences she evoked how self-satisfaction can divide any of us from our principles:

“The sad part is that it took this long. Maybe that is because until now everyone was making so much money. Maybe their pockets became so heavy they could not stand up for what was right.”

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