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Monday, Sep 01, 2014
Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: NBA had no choice but to act swiftly

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Published:   |   Updated: April 30, 2014 at 06:24 AM

— Is there any real way to punish a billionaire? How do you pressure wash a mind so polluted as to confuse sitting in the front row of a basketball arena with sitting on the front porch overlooking the cotton fields?

The NBA has dropped the hammer of shame on Los Angeles Clippers owner and first-team horrible human Donald Sterling, who received a lifetime ban from the league, a $2.5 million fine, plus a sell-your-team edict from fledgling NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

Translation: Your money’s no good here anymore.

Anybody out there hoping Magic Johnson buys the Clips?

That would be too sweet.

I suppose a lifetime ban is a relative thing when you’re talking about an 80-year-old bigot. The NBA got it right.

Only don’t applaud too loudly. The league had no choice. It was staring at utter madness if it didn’t clip Sterling.

Clippers players might not have taken the court Tuesday night for Game 5 of their playoff series with Golden State. Or they would have boycotted games next season. Visiting teams might have refused to play at Staples Center with Sterling as an owner. The NBA as a historically inclusive institution would die. So would sponsorship deals.

There are a few facts to be drawn from the Sterling disaster.

Fact: The NAACP’s Los Angeles chapter needs to review its vetting process for recipients of its lifetime achievement award. Actually, Sterling had already received that award, five years ago. He was set to get another one this month. Um, something came up.

Fact: Someone would watch this on reality TV. Synopsis: An 80-year-old billionaire racist slum lord who still dines out with his estranged wife, but the wife is suing his girlfriend, who’s half a century younger — and apparently biracial — and has a taping system better than Nixon’s.

Fact: The NBA and its owners knew about this clown for years.

Sterling wasn’t exactly living the life of Lincoln before all this.

In 2009, he paid $2.725 million to settle a housing discrimination lawsuit which accused him of freezing out African-Americans and Latinos when it came to renting in his apartment houses.

But the Clippers were never any good, a joke for decades, and everyone in the NBA was making money, so why bother with an ugly dust-up? The league looked the other way, even after former Clippers GM and NBA Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor sued Sterling for, among other things, running his franchise along a “Southern plantation-type structure.”

It was only Sterling getting caught on tape that did him in.

Maybe he still gets the last laugh here. He bought the then-San Diego Clippers in 1981 for $12.7 million. When he is forced to sell, the franchise could fetch close to $1 billion. That’ll learn him.

Here’s Old Man Sterling, caught on tape, explaining to Girlfriend that he is not racist.

“I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses,” he said. “Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them?

“Who makes the game? Do I make the game or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners that created the league?”

He gave them food.

NBA players are amazing talents, the best of the best.

To this guy, they were just The Help.

You can’t always stop bigotry.

But every once in a while, you get to dunk on it.

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