NORMAN — This unfolding Donald Sterling saga and his mission to retain ownership of his NBA team has been like watching a horrible movie. You so much want it to end. You also wonder if it would be better to simply get up and walk away.
A few weeks ago, Sterling was mostly unknown outside Los Angeles, where he’d built a real estate empire that made him a wealthy man. He also was the owner of the L.A. Clippers, that other professional basketball franchise in Los Angeles that doesn’t field many winning teams and attracts more ridicule than fans.
At one time, in 2000, things got so bad for the Clippers that Sports Illustrated selected them as “the worst franchise in sports history.”
Then things got worse.
That happened April 25 when TMZ, a website that specializes in sensational stories, released a recording in which Sterling can supposedly be heard chastising a close friend, V. Stiviano, for bringing African-Americans with her to Clippers games. When confirmed that it was, indeed, the voice of the 80-year-old Sterling on the recording, a media firestorm ensued. It hasn’t died down.
This was more than a public relations nightmare for Sterling and his team, one composed mostly of African-American players. It was a potential disaster for the NBA and its fast-paced game, which was enjoying newfound attention around the world.
The question of what to do fell to Adam Silver, the NBA’s new commissioner. If Sterling’s dim-witted actions allowed himself to be cast in such a destructive way, Silver has ensured the NBA’s image should be spared further damage.
The new commissioner launched a process that, in all likelihood, will lead to Sterling’s termination as owner of the team, which he acquired in 1981.
Silver faced at least two critical questions in responding to the crisis: What were his legal options and limitations? And would the other NBA owners support his decision?