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The Donald Sterling Dilemma

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The NBA has a problem……………and its name is Donald Sterling. The owner of the Los Angeles Clippers was recently reported to have made racist remarks asking his girlfriend to stop bringing African-American guests to Clipper games. What? The NBA is made up of mostly African-American players not to mention many of the professional game’s most ardent fans.

Don Sterling was born Donald Tokowitz in Chicago in 1934. He purchased the Los Angeles Clippers in 1981 for the very attractive price of $12.5 million. Forbes Magazine values the team at $575 million ranking it 18th (in value) out of 30 NBA teams. Sterling and his immigrant parents moved to Los Angeles when he was two years old. He attended Cal State University in Los Angeles and holds a Law Degree from Southwestern University School of Law.

Sterling started his law practice and established his reputation as a divorce and personal injury attorney. While he claims to have tried over 10,000 cases, he also branched into real estate and he quickly became a large owner of real estate and was sometimes referred to as a “slum lord.”

In 2006 Sterling was sued by the U. S. Department of Justice for housing discrimination. He refused to rent to Koreans, Hispanics and African-Americans. He eventually paid a fine of almost $3.0 million. He also paid attorney’s fees of almost $5.0 million. In 2009 Sterling was sued by Elgin Baylor, a former NBA superstar for employment discrimination.

So it comes as no surprise that Sterling has been taped having an argument with his girlfriend. Apparently he argued with her over the fact that he reprimanded her for bringing Magic Johnson, a high profile and former NBA superstar, to Clipper’s games. He was quoted as telling her, “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people.” This was in response to her posting a photo of herself with Magic Johnson at a game. Ironically, Sterling had received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAACP. He was scheduled to receive another one in May 2014. The NAACP has cancelled that event.
Now the NBA has a problem and the question is what to do now that the media, fans and many NBA and formed NBA players have vociferously denounced the racist comments of Mr. Sterling. Adam Sliver, the new Commissioner of the NBA is being pressured to take swift and decisive action to bring this ugly matter to a quick resolution. Recommendations for actions against Sterling include: banning his appearance at any future NBA games, provide a full accounting of all his racist activities over the years, hefty fines and more.

In the end, his actions have reflected racism in the United States at the highest levels. Even President Barack Obama has weighed in on Sterling’s remarks. After only three months on the job Commissioner Silver faces a defining moment in his young tenure. Whatever he does will be scrutinized and criticized by pundits, media outlets, players and fans. Clearly this is a major distraction for the professional league which is in the midst of the NBA Playoffs.

While many people are offering their comments on what to do, Commissioner Silver must act now and he must do so under considerable pressure. Guess this is truly “trial by fire” for the new Commissioner. We’ll soon find out what he is made of.

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