NBA Suspends Sterling for Life On Day Clipper Players Always Hoped For

Apr 29 2014, 1:52pm CDT | by

You know how it’s always darkest before the dawn? Suddenly, it’s morning in Clipper Nation!

If you had pumped the franchise full of truth serum last week, or any time in the last 30 years, players and employees would all have said they dreamed of being rid of their imperious, courtly, wifty, and now that it’s on the record, womanizing and racially insensitive owner, Donald T. Sterling.

Voila! Guess whose despised hide has just been tacked to the wall, or actually barred from the NBA for life?

Tuesday in New York, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, noting his “personal outrage,” announced that he has suspended Sterling from the league for the rest of his life and fined him $2.5 million, the harshest penalty for an owner in U.S. sports history.

Noting that Sterling had acknowledged that it was his voice on the audiotape, making racist comments, Silver said he will ask the NBA board of governors to force him to sell the team–dumping the matter into the laps of the other 29 owners, who have the authority to take away the team by a three-fourths vote.

Sterling has yet to respond but people who are sure that he now must sell, take his $750 million profit and go (he bought the team in 1981 for $13 million, reportedly assuming $11 million in obligations, paying $2 million in cash), don’t know Donald.

Insiders say he had to be talked out of attending Sunday’s loss to the Warriors in Oakland and doesn’t comprehend his predicament.

Watch: The NBA’s Top-Earning Players Of 2014

We’re not talking about everyday denial. This is someone who can tell his girlfriend, V. Stiviano—that’s what she was actually called—who describes herself as “black and Mexican,” not to “broadcast” a photo she took with Magic Johnson or bring African-Americans to Clipper games … where she often sat next to Sterling in the seat that would be otherwise occupied by Shelly Sterling.

Sterling has great tolerance for in chaos — he seems to revel in it. Alexandra Castro, the young woman he sued in 2004 when he acknowledged paying for sex, portraying her as a $500-a-night prostitute, is still often a guest at Clipper games.

TMZ reported that the telephone conversation taped by Stiviano, in which Sterling made racial comments, occurred April 9, four weeks and five days after Shelly Sterling sued her—on behalf of the Sterling family, the Clippers say—trying to recover the $1.8 million duplex, a Ferrari, a Mercedes, a Range Rover and two Bentleys that her husband gave her.

“Donald’s not wired to let all this in,” said a former staffer. “I’ll bet he’s preparing to sue the league for devaluing his franchise. The thing he’s mad about is that nobody is using the T in his name.”

Sterling, born Donald Tokowitz, the son of a pushcart peddler in hardscrabble Boyle Heights, is now Donald Tokowitz Sterling. I lampooned him in open letters for 20 years in the Los Angeles Times and the only thing he ever complained about, aside from telling me, “I didn’t understand what you meant,” was the first one when I left out the T.

Sterling has been litigious to the point of claiming that he didn’t fire former Coach-GM Mike Dunleavy, insisting that he just stopped coming into the office, even if that wasn’t what the team and the newspapers said at the time. Dunleavy, who had the foresight to get a clause stipulating that an arbitrator settle any dispute, rather than let Sterling drag him out for years in court, collected every penny he claimed he had coming.

Nevertheless, the prevailing opinion is that NBA by-laws, which Sterling accepted, have cut him off from the legal system.

Wrote ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson: “When [Commissioner Adam] Silver issues his punishment to Sterling, the decision is final. The constitution provides in Paragraph 24(m) that a commissioner’s decision shall be… as final as an award of arbitration. It is almost impossible to find a judge in the United States judicial system who would set aside an award of arbitration. Sterling can file a lawsuit but he would face a humiliating defeat early in the process.”

As for the Clipper players, they go into tonight’s pivotal Game 5 of their 2-2 series with the Warriors in Staples Center, worrying about the reception they’ll get from their home crowd… assuming there is one.

Coach Doc Rivers said “I understand” if Johnson, who vowed never to attend another Clipper game while Sterling owns the team, and everyone else stayed away.

“We’re going home now and, usually, that would mean we’re going to our safe haven,” said Rivers after Game 4 in Oakland. “And I don’t even know if that’s true, to be honest.”

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about what it is going to be like,” said Chris Paul.

Golden State Coach Mark Jackson, who wouldn’t mind seeing 5,000 fans rattling around in the 19,000-seat arena, issued his own call for a fan boycott, on principle, he said.

“If it was me, I wouldn’t come to the game,” Jackson said. “I believe as fans, the loudest statement they could make as far as fans is to not show up to the game.”

Not that Sterling doesn’t have some defenders, or at least one. Noted Donald Trump, who presumably knows whereof he speaks: “He got set up by a very, very bad girlfriend. Let’s face it. She’s the girlfriend from Hell.”

The game is hours off but I’m guessing they could put it in the 92,000-seat Rose Bowl and sell it out twice. Clipper players, who immediately dissociated themselves from their owner, are seen as the primary victims, not perpetrators and will probably get the greatest ovation of their lives.

Of course, that remains to be seen. It’s early in the post-Donald era.

Also on Forbes:

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