Goodbye Donald Sterling, good riddance and thank you to Harvey Levin who is now journalism answer to Edward R. Murrow in that he got rid of the National Basketball Association’s version of Joe McCarthy. The NBA is hanging its collective hat on a TMZ audio which somehow suffered that showed Sterling to be a racist, sexist and someone who had a rather strange view of Israel’s race relationships. But the audio is played in snippets, a part of an overall audio that has not been aired by TMZ and Deadspin.
This isn’t the Washington Post breaking the Watergate story. This is a Harvey Levin creation and anyone who is interested in the future of journalism should really be concerned about the industry and the news doesn’t have to be held to a higher standard than shouting anymore.
Levin’s background includes issuing an apology for bad reporting on Los Angeles’s KCBS TV during the O. J. Simpson trial and The People’s Court, a genre of television which may not be on the level. If you spent any time with Hedda Muskat, she will tell you that the court shows are somewhat staged, that the contestants are coached on how to act over the top, are liquored up and don’t necessarily get all of the money they “win” in a settlement because the production company seems to be always short of money.
Who is Hedda Muskat? A veteran of reality TV, the Jenny Jones show and the court shows. Muskat apparently thinks she has been blackballed and is suing the Creative Artist Agency and Katalyst Media for allegedly backing out of a contract for a reality show about the Department of Motor Vehicles.
This probably on the surface has nothing to do with National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA’s other 29 owners or Donald Sterling. But this is the back alley of journalism that the NBA built the case against Donald Sterling on.
The most comical part of the Silver news conference where he as judge and jury came down on Sterling came from a FOX News Channel correspondent. Jovian Lien Wei asked Silver about privacy concerns and judging Sterling on a private conversation. The reporter works for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp which is entangled in a phone hacking investigation in England where nearly four score have been arrested. Silver dismissed the question as fast as he could. It was the best question of what could be described as an NBA pep rally with writers as the cheerleaders because Adam did good.
So here are some unasked questions that should be addressed. Who delivered the audio to Levin and TMZ? The woman who was asking the questions on the audio has been identified as V. Stiviano who had some relationship with Sterling but her lawyer said she was not his mistress. The lawyer Mac Nehoray also contented that his client did not give the tape to Levin but has an idea of who did.
Was the audio stolen from Sterling? Did someone want to extort Sterling? Was he set up? All valid questions.
Why did Sterling tape his conversations? What was the reason? Was he forgetful? Did he have a medical condition? Did he want a record of what he said? That too needs to be addressed.
The NBA is hanging its hat on a tape that somehow never should have left Sterling’s possession. Nehoray is of the opinion that the tape was sold to Levin.
Why was Sterling talking about Magic Johnson? Was he mad at Johnson? Did Sterling feel Johnson was laying the groundwork to try and get his Clippers away from him? Is there any friendship between Magic Johnson and V. Stiviano that Sterling disliked? Why was Magic Johnson so quick after the tape was released to knock down any speculation that he was interested in the Clippers and why were sportswriters, who in many cases throw out an item for public consumption to test the waters, suggesting Magic Johnson is either interested or was a perfect choice to buy the Clippers?
Doc Rivers who is as smart a guy as there is in the NBA signed on to work for Sterling. Rivers had to know of Sterling’s long rap sheet of racism and how he stuck his thumb in David Stern and the NBA’s collective eye in 1984 and just moved his Clippers from San Diego to Los Angeles without permission. But Rivers on his free will signed a multimillion dollar deal to work for the man. Did he just learn about Sterling’s past from TMZ?
The players were drafted (the NBA Draft is essentially an illegal event which violates the Sherman Antitrust Act but is allowed because two parties, the owners and players agree to the mechanism which allows players to enter the workplace) by the team and had no choice but to sign with Sterling or force a trade or go elsewhere (Europe, Turkey) to play. Chris Paul, a major player in the National Basketball Players Association group, accepted a trade to the Clippers knowing Sterling owned the team.
All of a sudden, the players found out about Sterling’s views off an audio of a “news” platform of questionable practices and got upset. The players have agents who knew of Sterling’s past and if they didn’t, they are unprepared representatives who should be doing something else.
The Clippers marketing partners started fleeing on Monday. The group included CarMax, State Farm Insurance, Kia Motors America, Virgin America, AQUAHydrate, Red Bull, Yokohama tires and Mercedes-Benz. It is hard to believe that those companies had no idea of Sterling’s past behavior.
The title sponsor of the building is Staples. Nobody within Staples marketing department knew of Sterling’s past until the audio surfaced? That’s hard to swallow.
Then there are Phil Anschutz, who has the Los Angeles Kings and a piece of the Lakers who rented the building out to Sterling and Rupert Murdoch who’s local regional cable TV network gave Sterling millions of dollars for the right to show his product on cable TV locally. Both men travel in Sterling’s circles.
Two other media partners, Disney’s ESPN and Time Warner’s Turner Sports signed deals with the league and had to know Sterling was an owner of one of the 30 franchises.
There is another puzzling part to the whole Sterling episode. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s role in “helping” the players get a new executive director for the NBPA (National Basketball Players Association) and being some sort of spokesman for the players and league in the sordid matter after Johnson had delivered a municipally funded arena to a new set of Sacramento Kings owners.
The NBA “found” a new set of owners after tiring of the Maloof brothers. The ownership lodge disposed of them in a much kinder and gentler way than Sterling.
Mayor Johnson, a former NBA player, apparently is going to take money out of parking fees revenue and sink it into the arena without figuring out a replacement for that revenue stream. Johnson played ball with David Stern to get the arena funding approved. Now he is working for the players. It’s not like Sacramento’s unemployment rate is around 1 percent or that the city is swimming in money. He has a job, he runs California’s capital, why is he playing around in the NBA?
Johnson had spent the majority of his career in Phoenix and faced Sterling’s teams many times. It is interesting that he now acknowledging Sterling’s record but never did as a player between 1987 and 2000.
Everyone seemingly looked the other way as did Former NBA Commissioner David Stern and the late Larry O’Brien. Sterling had a public record, he was accused of being a slumlord. He paid a $2.73 million fine after brokering a deal with the Justice Department that he engaged in discriminatory rental practices against Hispanics and African Americans without acknowledging guilt in 2009.
As recently as two years ago, the NBA sent Sterling’s Clippers to China for preseason action in an effort to broaden the league’s global footprint. No one in China had a Sterling problem, nobody in Russia had a Sterling problem when the team was sent there in 2006.
The slippery slope is now the league’s choice of punishment. What happens if a player is arrested for drug use or assaulting someone? Will the Sterling standard of embarrassing the business be applied to the player and will the player be tossed since being arrested is probably far more serious than the thoughts of a racist and sexist. What if an owner contributes money to a political hate group? Will Silver and the NBA react to where an owner puts his political money into a group that someone dislikes?
On a much minor level, will celebrities with questionable backgrounds such as singers with who have written lyrics that defame some group in some way no longer sign anthems or perform at NBA functions?
The sportswriters’ community should be raising questions about the entire affair. Silver and the owners ended one chapter with the ouster of Sterling but a book has many chapters and the next one should be called “The Slippery Slope”.
Evan Weiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/365489 ) and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century, (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/americas-passion-how-coal/id595575002?m... ), From Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/from-peach-baskets-to-dance/id636914196... ) and the reissue of the 2005 book, The Business and Politics of Sports (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/business-and-politics-of-sports-evan-wei...) and reissue of the 2010 e-book The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/business-politics-sports-selection/id77... ) are available from e-book distributors globally. 2014 e-book, sports business 2010-14(https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/393652 ). The e-books are available from e-book distributors globally