Donald Sterling Lost By The Rules Of His Own Game

Apr 29 2014, 4:17pm CDT | by

Strip away the context and what the NBA did to Donald Sterling on Tuesday seems unfair. Sterling said some horrible things to his girlfriend in a private conversation. She taped it. It wound up on TMZ and Deadspin. And now NBA commissioner Adam Silver has banned Sterling for life, and other owners will probably force him to sell the team. That seems like a huge overreaction. If you could lose a team for saying horrible things in a private conversation, there might be only six people in America who could own an NBA team, all nuns.

But there is a steaming heap of context to what the NBA did, and Donald Sterling is standing in it.

The NBA’s punishment is for Sterling’s words and deeds. But there’s a huge amount of evidence that Sterling punished people simply for who they are. In 2009, he paid a $2.7 million settlement — the largest one of its kind — in a case that charged Sterling with trying to keep black residents and families with children out of apartment buildings he owned in Los Angeles. That followed a similar case in 2005 where the settlement was confidential, but the payout was even higher — $4.9 million in legal fees alone.

(A reporter rightly asked about Sterling’s history at Silver’s press conference. Silver replied that the NBA did nothing to Sterling after those cases because he wasn’t officially found in the wrong. Which goes to show that it pays to settle.)

But the bigger context, to me, is how Sterling benefited all these years from the way the NBA works. NBA owners — and the owners in most pro sports leagues — have advantages other CEOs can only dream of. They have no real competition in the U.S. when it comes to professional basketball. They’ve divided up their territory geographically. They have this beautiful labor-restricting thing called the college draft, where teams take turns picking the best college players and the players have no say in the matter. And they have trades. Trades! You can take one or two of your people and send them to another team for one or two of theirs. This would be laughed out of any court in the country, except in sports, where we pretend as if there’s no other way it could happen.

All that creates a system where Donald Sterling, who by most accounts is terrible as a team owner as well as a human being, can buy the Clippers for $12 million in 1981 and have it be worth at least $575 million now.

It’s an exclusive club. But one of the problems with an exclusive club is that it tends to exclude. And now that Sterling has embarrassed the NBA, most of the other owners will line up to get rid of him. From what Silver said Tuesday, three-quarters of the other owners would have to agree to force Sterling to sell. And based on the confidence in Silver’s voice, he has already lined up the votes.

This whole sad story is full of contradictions. The man who doesn’t seem to like black people owns a team in a league dominated by black players. (I have a couple of theories on that.) The owner who finally has a good team, after years of awful ones, has sabotaged his team’s best shot at the title. We’re talking about race and mistresses and lawsuits in the midst of the best first round the NBA playoffs has ever had.

In one sense, this all happened so fast — from a TMZ post Saturday morning to Adam Silver laying down the law Tuesday afternoon. But Sterling built the case against himself. He used his power against the weak, and now the power is aligned against him. He had all the advantages of being in the club, and now the club will turn its back. He spent wrenching the karma wheel in his direction. Once he let go, it spun all the way back. For once, you can say this in a case involving Donald Sterling: That seems fair.

 
 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

SJVNL signs pact with Nepal for hydro-power plant
Kathmandu, Nov 27 (IANS) Indian public sector company Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd. (SJVNL) has signed a project development agreement with the Nepal government for executing the 900 MW Arun-III Hydro Electric Project in eastern Nepal, officials said Thursday.
 
 
'I saw humans on Mars in 1979': Ex-NASA employee
New York, Nov 27 (IANS) A woman claiming to be a former NASA employee has stated that while watching some footage, she saw two humans walking on the Red Planet towards the Viking Mars lander in 1979.
 
 
Mammoth cloning reality soon?
New York, Nov 27 (IANS) With the discovery of the best-preserved specimen of a mammoth found so far, cloning of the woolly animal is closer to becoming a reality, scientists report.
 
 
Saarc energy accord signed
Kathmandu, Nov 27 (IANS) The foreign ministers of Saarc member states have signed the Saarc Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation (Electricity).
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

13 civilians killed by Ukrainian forces: Separatists
Moscow, Nov 27 (IANS/EFE) At least 13 civilians were killed in recent shelling by Ukrainian artillery in the eastern city of Donetsk controlled by pro-Russian separatists, the rebel command announced Thursday. A...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Zambian police gear up for presidential election
Lusaka, Nov 27 (IANS) Police in Zambia have stepped up measures to ensure peace ahead of a presidential election scheduled for Jan 20, a top official said Thursday. Stella Libongani, the inspector general of Zambia...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Hong Kong students threaten to occupy government buildings
Hong Kong, Nov 27 (IANS/EFE) Students participating in the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong threatened Thursday to attack government buildings following a night of clashes that occurred just hours after the...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Cricketers who died of injuries on the field
Sydney, Nov 27 (IANS) Phil Hughes Thursday joined the list of cricket players who died of the injuries sustained while playing the game. Here's a list of the players who died after getting injured while playing: 1....
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Syrian army claims killing 50 rebels near Damascus
Damascus, Nov 27 (IANS/EFE) The Syrian Army announced Thursday that it had killed at least 50 "terrorists", as it describes anti-government insurgents, in an ambush outside Damascus, the state-run Sana news agency said...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Danish parliament speaker to head UN General Assembly
Copenhagen, Nov 27 (IANS) Danish parliament Speaker Mogens Lykketoft will become the next president of the UN General Assembly in September 2015 replacing current president, Uganda's Sam Kutesa, media reported Thursday...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Cricket community rallies behind bowler Abbott
London, Nov 27 (IANS) The cricket community has lent his support to bowler Sean Abbott, left distraught after his bouncer hit Phillip Hughes on the head, leading to his death Thursday. The young pace bowler delivered...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Modi, Sharif shake hands, chat at Saarc closing event
Kathmandu, Nov 27 (IANS) In an ice-breaking moment, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shook hands with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, laughed and even slapped him laughingly on the arm while sharing a light...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
'I saw humans on Mars in 1979': Ex-NASA employee
New York, Nov 27 (IANS) A woman claiming to be a former NASA employee has stated that while watching some footage, she saw two humans walking on the Red Planet towards the Viking Mars lander in 1979. Calling herself "...
Read more on Business Balla
 
Cameron anxiously awaits 'Avatar' sequel release
Los Angeles, Nov 27 (IANS) If one goes by "Avatar" filmmaker James Cameron's words, the planned sequel of the 2009 epic sci-fi movie will leave the audience mesmerised. "You will s--t yourself with your mouth wide...
Read more on Celebrity Balla