Going for the jugular in the wake of 80-year-old Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s April 9 racist rant recorded secretly by his “girlfriend” V. Stiviano, 54-year-old Hall-of-Fame Lakers great and Dodgers part-owner Ervin “Magic” Johnson offered to buy the Clippers. Giving the octogenarian a perfect exit strategy, Johnson confirmed his $200 billion Guggenheim Partners ownership group was ready to buy the Clippers for over $1 billion. Bought in 1982 by Sterling for $12.5 million at the suggestion of Lakers late owner Jerry Buss, Sterling faced nothing but criticism, running the former San Diego Clippers franchise like a Mickey Mouse Club. After telling the press he and his wife Cookie would never attend another Clippers game, Magic had the brainstorm of buying the now high-flying NBA franchise to resolve what’s become an irreversible national disgrace.
Acting like 88-year-old Playboy Enterprises Hugh Hefner, Sterling was apparently in a spat with his 30-something mixed race girlfriend at a Clippers game when she secretly recorded him telling her to not associate with black people or bring them to Clippers games. Viviano broke the blockbuster story April 25 to Hollywood gossip siteTMZ Sports, known for its juicy stories on Hollywood celebrities and sports figures. Sterling apparently saw a picture of Viviano cozying up to Magic Johnson, making him jealous and precipitating his racist rant. While neither confirmed yet by the NBA nor the Clippers organization, all indications point to Sterling’s voice on the recording. Since TMZ broke the story last Friday, no one’s heard from the disgraced Clippers owner, only his publicists hoping the scandal will eventually blow over. There’s little sympathy for the Clippers aged billionaire.
After spearheading the Guggenheim group that wrestled the Dodgers away from disgraced owner Frank McCourt May 1, 2012, Magic looks perfectly poised to buy the Clippers. While it’s premature for newly minted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to force the Clippers sale before dealing with Sterling, it’s also clear that the clueless LA real estate mogul committed an unforgivable faux pas. Whether Sterling was mad, drunk or suffering from cognitive challenges, his comments were so ugly, so debasing, so revolting, that he can’t recover. No damage control strategy can save Sterling short of retirement. If Silver doesn’t act decisively to immediately suspend Sterling and facilitate a fair ownership transfer, his job is also on the line. ”Magic’s absolutely interested,” said an unnamed source linked to Johnson’s business empire. League officials need to come to grips quickly with Sterling’s offense.
With the NBA leading the way historically for opportunities and prestige for African Americans, both on and off the court, tolerating Sterling’s racism would be a slap in the face to all NBA personnel. Facing an avalanche of adverse publicity, there’s no turning back for Sterling but, more importantly, for the NBA to take decisive action. After getting blown out in Oakland by the Golden State Warriors last night, it’s clear that even the Clippers consummate professional coach Doc Rivers or future Hall-of-Fame point guard Chris Paul can’t ignore Sterling’s revolting words, sapping the team’s drive to compete at the highest level locked in an epic playoff battle with their Bay Area rivals. Silver’s office must suspend Sterling indefinitely and take seriously Magic’s offer to buy the Clippers. No African American NBA coach, player or fan can tolerate Sterling’s disgraceful behavior.
Brands do matter in professional sports. After rehabbing the brand in recent years, Sterling trashed the Clippers brand so permanently that the only path to salvation is purging his name from the franchise. Fellow billionaire and 55-year-old Dallas Mavericks NBA franchise owner Mark Cuban couldn’t fathom how a businessman could be so deleterious to his own self-interests. Running around with a 30-something girlfriend and making such outrageous comments, whether meant in private or not, show that Sterling is unfit to own an NBA franchise. He’s offended so many folks from all walks of life that he’s abused the privilege of owning an NBA team. Whether he’s fit to run his other business activities is anyone’s guess. Holding a high-profile public place owning a professional sports franchise places a special burden—and responsibility—on its billionaire owners.
Violating the public trust, NBA commissioner Adam Silver must suspend Sterling immediately and indefinitely or face the same wrath of public outrage. There’s no time-or-place for equivocation when it comes to Sterling’s egregious behavior. Capitalizing on his mistakes, Magic offers the perfect solution to a man that will walk away with king’s fortune for showing no class, offending his players, coaches, fans and everyone else that cares about racial equality. Whether inadvertent or deliberate, Sterling violated the public trust and must pay the price. Walking away with a billion or more dollars is no consolation for the public disgrace caused by such vile behavior. Whatever the legal issues of forcing Sterling out, Silver must act decisively to purge the NBA of its public disgrace. Whatever happened that went haywire in Sterling isn’t the NBA’s or the public’s fault.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’d editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.