Cumberland Times-News

May 1, 2014

NBA pounced once its dirty secret revealed

Mike Burke
Cumberland Times-News

— Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling got what he deserved, but what on earth took so long? The NBA had tolerated his record of discrimination for far too long.

Where was David Stern, The Greatest Sports Commissioner of All-Time, through all of this?

I’m shocked, shocked to find a bigot in our midst ... Really? As a man who made his fortune building low-income housing, Sterling, according to a 2009 U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit, decided who would rent his properties based on race. According to the suit Sterling would not rent to non-Koreans in Koreatown and would not rent to African-Americans in Beverly Hills, saying he did not like to rent to “Hispanics” because “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building,” and that “black tenants smell and attract vermin.”

(And you wonder why the Golden State Warriors were going to walk off the court Tuesday night had Sterling not gotten what he got?)

Sterling settled with the Justice Department for $2.73 million, the largest amount ever obtained by the government in a discrimination case involving apartment rentals. Again, this was 2009, yet it takes a tape recording of his spews, released to TMZ by his equally sleazy mistress five years later, for the NBA to recognize what they had on their hands?

Kudos to Adam Silver for handling his first defining moment as NBA commissioner the way he did. It would be easier, though, to sing more of Silver’s praises had he walked in from the outside cold when he took over as NBA commissioner. Having served as Stern’s right-hand man for over 20 years, you’re saying that the TMZ recording was the first wind Silver ever caught as to what kind of a person Sterling is and always has been? That this simply came out of nowhere is remarkably hard to believe. The horse had been out of the barn for some time, as Sterling’s beliefs and behavior had been reported by the media, including ESPN’s Bomani Jones. Yet the perception now is once it all became a tawdry social media lightning rod and the NBA boardroom wink-winks vanished, Sterling had to be taken care of.

Again, where was Stern? Was he aware of it when he, at the time in charge of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets, vetoed the trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers following the 2011 lockout? Was he aware of it when he then signed off on the trade that sent Paul to Sterling’s Clippers, the team that shares the same building with the Lakers?

Had the Lakers been able to acquire Paul he would have teamed up in the same backcourt with Kobe Bryant, who still had plenty of prime left. The plan then was to try to deal Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard, with the Houston Rockets getting Pau Gasol when he too had prime remaining. The Hornets would've gotten Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin and a first-round pick from the Rockets, plus Lamar Odom from the Lakers. But Stern decided the Hornets needed younger players and better draft picks if they were to part with Paul, shocking even the Hornets general manager at the time, who had engineered the proposed deal with the Lakers.

The Lakers, in turn, would have likely stayed on as the NBA’s marquee franchise, whereas now, thanks in large part to the misdealings of Jim Buss, who has had final say on all player personnel matters since his father Dr. Jerry Buss died, the Lakers are mush.

Not only that, with his refusal to bring back Phil Jackson (who happens to be engaged to Buss’s sister) to run the basketball side of the Lakers, just about every Laker from three generations of championship teams, beginning with the Showtime Lakers, cannot stand Jim Buss. That would include Magic Johnson, close personal friend to David Stern, who is now suddenly a very interested party in purchasing the Clippers as soon as the league washes its hands of Sterling once and for all.

In making the announcement of Sterling’s banishment on Tuesday, Silver said, “I am personally distraught that the views expressed by Mr. Sterling came from within an institution that has historically taken such a leadership role in matters of race relations and caused current and former players, coaches, fans and partners of the NBA to question their very association with the league.

“To them, and pioneers of the game like Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Sweetwater Clifton, the great Bill Russell, and particularly Magic Johnson, I apologize.”

Not unlike the thief who isn’t the least bit sorry he stole, but is terribly sorry he’s going to jail, the NBA’s apology was proper but long overdue, meaning Adam Silver was not the man who should have been delivering it.

Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at