The NBA Playoffs began with unusually high hopes for the Los Angeles Clippers, a notoriously downtrodden franchise now amongst the elite, with no thanks to the longtime owner Donald Sterling.
Sterling purchased the Clippers in 1982 and promptly moved them from San Diego to become Los Angeles’ other team and that is exactly what they were. Since 1982 the Clippers have won three playoff series, the Lakers have won eight championships, not counting the one they won the year the Clippers moved. Sterling is a billionaire mostly through real estate speculation. That is the positive description. The truth is not so positive.
Donald Sterling has had one case or another, in one court or another, every single day for the past 41 years. The man looks for ways to get around things, get through things, or toss things through legal loopholes. While this is arguably an impressive business trait, Sterling has used it to excess time and again. He has been under investigations for years concerning his methods of amassing his properties and fortune, using his advantages to frequently settle disputes out of court with large payouts. As a result, the NBA never had the legal grounds to get rid of him, but they did want to.
The NBA locked out its players in 2011. The financial structure of the game was at stake, with owners claiming they could not succeed going forward without restructuring. The salary cap was made more restrictive, and rookie salaries were drastically reined in. But during the dispute, the players pointed to owners such as Sterling, asking for certain concessions to be made. The results hammered out in the end were not only rules for maximum salaries and transactions, but minimum requirements as well.
Donald Sterling was singled out as an owner who could not care less about winning, and the Clippers’ record certainly backed that assertion. Sterling had not spent money on players or coaches, and repeatedly stood in the way of management trying to build a winner. With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2011, the league promised the players that each franchise would try to do whatever they could to win. It is only since then the Clippers have become anything above a laughingstock, the NBA embarrassment, the franchise always singled out as the worst.
It is this man, a constant blight on the honorable NBA, trying for years to throw games without actively doing so, that the league came down on. The recording made by mistress V. Stiviano and sold to TMZ was finally the smoking gun the league had been trying to get for years. You have all heard the infamous and disgraceful comments made by Sterling about race and its role in his life. The NBA banned Sterling for life from any further contact with the Clippers or the league, a situation with much still to play out before it is done.
The Donald Sterling saga has underscored the worst values, but is not totally surprising. At 81, Sterling still speaks and thinks in ways more accepted years ago. The truth is, this incident alone was not enough to banish him. He is entitled to free speech and to expect private conversations not to be recorded. But the totality of 32 years absolutely was enough.
The NBA sent a clear message. You will honor the game and compete like gentlemen, or you will have no place. This was Sterling’s ongoing sin, a sin that finished him as a NBA owner for good.