There have been seven overtime games in the first round of the National Basketball Association playoffs. Most contests have been competitive and exciting. This is the best week EVER for the NBA!
Ok – you know better.
There are so many public-relations angles to the Donald Sterling story that I didn’t know where to begin.
• There is, of course, a recording that allegedly puts Sterling, the longtime owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, in a racially littered disagreement with his girlfriend, V. Stiviano.
• There is a topic that includes players, coaches and other members of the Clippers’ staff that is engaged in an NBA Playoff race amidst the chaos.
• There are sponsors that jumped ship (albeit many with “suspension of activity” lifeboats) so fast that I couldn’t keep track of them during a stretch of time (best I can tell only Corona remains).
• Then there is the NBA and its team of owners, which according to accounts that date as far back as 2006, seemed to tolerate Sterling’s insensitive and racially charged behavior for years. If you call the Chris Paul “award” to the Clippers part of this, the NBA enabled a man who was to many, primarily known for running a franchise so shabbily, it was the laughingstock of the NBA until recently.
Each of these elements is worthy of its own post, but since the NBA could quickly realize a trickle-down effect of one owner’s words, I decided to start there.
During one of the league’s most exciting weeks on the court, thousands of social media posts have focused on the Sterling story, not NBA game action. National network news shows have led their broadcasts during the last 72 hours with the Sterling story. Sports radio talk shows are dissecting every detail. Little is being discussed about the games. Add to that, one of the most respected men associated with the NBA, Dr. Jack Ramsay, passed away and instead of honoring his memory, the world is talking about a narcissistic, condescending bigot that speaks about “giving” his players food, homes and cars.
Ervin “Magic” Johnson, who was at the forefront of Sterling’s rant because Stiviano posted a picture with him on her Instagram account, said it most succinctly that this situation is bad for everybody; the NBA and America.
Ignorance, hate and prejudice are alive and well in the biggest melting pot of sport, and Johnson is right – it’s not a good look. Not only must we teach children (and adults) the value of respect for all people, but we must also accept that there are dozens of Donald Sterlings in power positions in all lines of work. What we can control is whom we let into our personal and professional circles. NBA owners, many that I admire, have tolerated Sterling for whatever reasons. He was sued more than once for racial discrimination, yet the league and its owners seemingly looked the other way. Maybe they thought he’d just shut up and pay the bills, or they were afraid of legal resistance. Regardless, their silence yesterday is the loudest sound in the room today.
Now it’s up to the NBA to right its wrong if it determines that it is Sterling’s voice on the recordings. Whether the league legally suspends him indefinitely or fellow owners band against him to relinquish control, the NBA must act with facts, conviction and as quickly as possible. If it does not, the Association’s image may be indelibly tarnished. Beyond that and maybe most important to the people who invested millions of dollars in teams, sponsorships will drop league-wide because the NBA will go on record as tolerating a racist bully.
And, if we’ve learned anything about sports, money speaks loudly and clearly.
(Copyright Gail Sideman and PUBLISIDE)