Clippers owner somehow outdoes himself in bringing disgrace to the league each year. How much is enough for David Stern and the rest of NBA ownership?
Posted by Matt Moore
A lot of complaints are made about NBA ownership. "My owner spends too much", or, more often, "spends too little." "They meddle too much." "They're too much of a distraction." For being the guy paying the bills, we expect an awful lot from them, even if it's fans' money supplying the money for those checks. But for the most part, NBA owners do all right. Their biggest crime most often is wanting to win, and thinking they have a good idea of how to go about that.
And then there's Donald Sterling.
Sterling, an NBA owner for 29 years, has been a disgrace to the NBA in every sense of the word. Most often, refusing to invest in order to compete is the charge against him. Which isn't exactly anything new in the NBA. Except that he operates in the top market in the league, capable of clearing a profit with even the slightest of relative investments. In the past six years, he's done more to try and break that trend, investing in a new practice facility and increasing the roster payroll, even if it was on marginal-to-hopeless players that have resulted in sub-mediocre performances.
But that's not the real problem with Donald Sterling. Nor is his rampant history of morally reprehensible behavior, from housing discrimination to alleged racist employer policies to sexual harassment . Even those allegations aren't strictly outside the lines of what we've seen from NBA ownership. The combination of the two puts him in the top five of worst NBA owners , but it's stuff like the interview with T.J. Simers of the LA Times this week that really push him over the top, that make him excel at being the absolute worst owner in the National Basketball Association, nay, all of sports. For a brief recap: Sterling doesn't know the names of the players he signed, it wasn't his idea to sign them, and he loves the way his picture looks in the paper.
I could lay out for you why the quotes he supplied Simers are so terrible, how they hurt the future of the franchise, how it immediately puts the new Clippers acquisition on edge, feeling unwanted by an owner who doesn't even know their name. But really, Kevin Arnovitz did that and did it as effectively as one can. Arnovitz takes one of my favorite approaches, likening the situation to terms you and I can relate to, a boss who doesn't even deign to know your name.
Instead, I want to ask a different question.
Why, in the name of Larry Bird almighty, does David Stern allow this to go on?
"What's he supposed to do?" you ask. How could the commissioner put any pressure on his ownership, who he represents most of the time? The answer is that owners come and go, but the Commish perseveres. And if we've seen anything, it's that David Stern has been ready, willing, and able to take care of messes in his own house and then make sure the spill doesn't happen again. Unless it's Sterling. In which case Sterling has simply designated him as the messy one, given him his own room in the basement to trash, and then soundly ignored the problem child. But the behavior Sterling acts out, in public, isn't just harmful to the Clippers franchise, a science experiment gone wrong from the start ("Oh, they used to be in San Diego, and before that they were in Buffalo, but then the owner wanted to swap with the Celtics' owner, so they did that. And they play in the same building as the Lakers, but really it's a shared kind of deal."). It's harmful to the league. And that's the kind of thing that shouldn't be allowed to happen. Be it Stern, or the rest of the ownership group (particularly Jerry Buss who pulled Sterling into this mess in the first place), someone needs to get involved.
The league has responded harshly, and swiftly, to any player that runs amuck and damages the value of the NBA brand. Yet this owner who repeatedly makes an outright disgrace of professional sports ownership continues to not only hammer whatever fledgling, starving fanbase they have, but to fans of all sports as well. The NBA is a worse league with Donald Sterling as an owner, more so than any other big boss in the league. For decades, the league has put up with all of it. The penny pinching. The lawsuits. The terrible decisions. The disgraceful quotes. The coaching carousel. The time has come. There is no longer a place in the NBA for an owner like that. Removing him would be a difficult, painful process that would need to be carried out behind closed doors.
But with the players and ownership headed for an all-out rumble in less than twelve months over the new CBA, is Sterling a cancerous asset the league wants to try and cover during negotiations? This isn't Mark Cuban, wily renegade media figure. This is Donald Sterling, toxic PR disaster zone. The NBA has welcomed in newer ownership comprised of smart, prolific businessmen, and while there will always be bad apples among those successful enough to purchase an NBA team, surely Sterling has injected too much rot in the franchise and in the league to be allowed to run free as he has.
The question is, how much is enough when it comes to Donald Sterling?
The answer so far is that the NBA is taking the same stance as Sterling has regarding his team's acquisition failures this summer. It's not their idea and not their fault.