This may be just the beginning of the Clippers’ cripple-down effect.
Whatever damage was already heaped upon in the court of public opinion this weekend over racial comments attributed to controversial team owner Donald T. Sterling, the next wave of outrage likely will depend on how the league and new commissioner Adam Silver decide to move forward.
As the league’s investigation continued related to audiotape released Friday by celebrity gossip site TMZ, as well as an extended version posted Sunday on Deadspin.com, indications are a fine and/or suspension for Sterling could come as soon as Tuesday.
That would be the same day the Clippers and Warriors play a critical Game 5 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series at Staples Center, the first time the Clippers are on their home court since the story surfaced. The series is tied at two games apiece following the Clippers’ 21-point loss Sunday.
Depending on the severity of the NBA’s punishment, industry sources differ on the reaction. How multi-million dollar sponsors distance themselves from Sterling and the team, season-ticket holders boycott future playoff games or if free-agent players change their minds about playing for the team in the near future all are in play.
“If the league wants to suspend him, that’s great and wonderful,” said famed human rights activist Harry Edwards, a professor emeritus of sociology at UC Berkeley. “The league has to take a stand and say this is who we are and this is something we cannot endorse and tolerate it. They should fine him and suspend him.
“I would hate to see him suspended before I can see the fans get up and walk out on him. Even if they suspend him for the rest of the playoffs and beginning of the season, the first game he shows up people should get up and walk out on him. This is absolutely horrible.”
Critical reaction already have come fast and furious from Magic Johnson, the target of the alleged Sterling comments, as well as NBA stars past and present like Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley. Johnson specifically joined ABC’s NBA studio show on Sunday morning to reiterate his outrage about how he has “no problem” never attending another Clippers game as per Sterling’s wishes.
“He’s got to come down hard,” Johnson said about Silver. “(Sterling) shouldn’t own a team anymore. And, he should stand up and say ‘I don’t want to own a team anymore,’ especially when you have African-Americans renting his apartments, coming to his games, playing for him and coaching for him. This is bad for everybody. This is bad for America. I’m really upset about it.”
President Barack Obama also responded Sunday during a news conference on Sunday in Malaysia.
“I don’t think I have to interpret those statements for you,” he said. “They kind of speak for themselves. When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything. You just let them talk.”
Before the Clippers were humiliated in a 118-97 loss to the Warriors on Sunday, team members gathered at midcourt and dropped their sweatsuits on the court to reveal a logo-less shirt prior to warming up. ABC NBA studio analyst Jalen Rose later exclaimed: “That’s what happens when you have an owner like Donald Sterling who talks about his players like they’re field workers that he allows to live in the house.”
During the game, ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy said it was confounding to him why some players said they couldn’t speak on the Sterling story because “the team told them not to. Are you kidding me? Stand up for what you believe.” He also said because they are “grown men with families of their own who at some point have been directly impacted by racism ... relish the opportunity to speak out. And that’s where neutrality can’t be tolerated.”
On the KABC-Channel 7 postgame show, analyst and former WNBA Sparks and USC star Lisa Leslie said: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. I’m a little disappointed that Clippers even played their game today. If I was a player today and that had happened with my owner, I would have encouraged my team, as the captain, to not play.
“It’s bigger than just a basketball game. Take a stand for humans, for society, for African-Americans, for all people. What can the fans do? Boycott the game.”
TMZ and Deadpin have not explained how they obtained the recording. This news organization has not verified its authenticity.
A person identified as Sterling is arguing with his girlfriend and is upset she posed for an Instagram photo with Johnson. A statement by the team questions and discredits the audio and said the woman identified as V. Stiviano recently was sued by the Sterlings.
The subject matter will be ripe for more debate Monday as information develops and local sports-talk radio shows dig in for the new work week.
John Ireland, a Clippers broadcaster under Sterling in the late ’90s who now works for the Lakers, said when his mid-day show on the Lakers’ 710-AM KSPN station begins Monday he expects the “a total different tidal wave of reaction because when we’ve had individual racism in sports — Marge Schott, Al Campanis, John Rocker — there has never been social media. You can’t hide this behavior. On top of that, it’s on tape. You can hear what bigotry and racism sounds like. That’s different than if you read it in a court deposition. It smacks you right in the face.
“I watched the Sunday morning news shows and they discussed it. I think that the league has to rule quickly on this, because if they don’t they leave it up to the media, players and fans to control the narrative.
“One thing that I hope to get across is that this is one guy, the owner. The overwhelming majority of Clippers employees are really great people. There is a huge difference between the Clippers owner and Clippers organization.”
During the team’s post-game “Clipper Talk” show Sunday on KFWB-AM (980), fans seemed more concerned about how the news affected the team’s performance, whether true or not.
“I’ve never cared for him as an owner, but it must have contributed to their psyche,” one caller named Freddie said. “I still think they’re going to come back and go to the final and win it all.”
The truth is, said one agent who represents a flurry of NBA players and requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the story, is the impact to Sterlings’ comments could be “gigantic.”
“Why would anyone want to have their player playing in that environment? You can’t succeed in a toxic situation. If the guy at the top of your organization is a piece of scum that everybody hates, you can’t win in that culture. It’s impossible. They’re going to realize that and most players won’t go there.”
Another NBA agent said he believed if it turns out the NBA punishes Sterling and that is enough to satisfy everyone, “it could be a non issue.”
Paul Swangard, the managing director of Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, called this a “fluid situation” and the impact on how Game 5 plays out Tuesday depends on “a rank-and-file group of people who want to show their displeasure through Mr. Sterling by now showing up at all. That might hurt concessions, parking and merchandise, but seats have still been sold.”
The NBA has rules in place regarding owner conduct that pertains to DWI crimes, misconduct during games, criticizing officials and behavior determined to be “detrimental to the league.”
If Silver takes Sterling to the limit for this, compounding a track record that has involved a series of discrimination lawsuits from former employers and tenants of his buildings, there is some precedent.
The NBA, for example, effectively pushed out Cleveland Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien in 1983. Several years prior, he set the groundwork for his removal by making a comment that his roster should ideally be at least 50 percent white to help with marketing because white fans identified better.
The most egregious example of an owner gone rogue with racial comments was Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, suspended by Major League Baseball for the 1993 season and fined $250,000 based on her quotes about blacks, Asians and gays that continued to come out in the media. She had another multi-year ban ending in 1998 related to comments she made about Adolph Hitler and how he “was good in the beginning, but went too far,” which lead to MLB kicking her out through 1998. She sold her stake in the franchise a year later and died in 2004, her image never rehabilitated.
Staff writer Mark Medina contributed to this story
By Tom Hoffarth
©2014 the Daily News (Los Angeles)
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