The NBA finally applied sanctions to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Sterling has been fined $2.5 million (the maximum he could be fined) and banned for life for the racist rhetoric his former girlfriend recorded and released to TMZ as retribution for a lawsuit brought against her by Sterling.
The scandal, which has diverted attention away from one of the most exciting, competitive NBA Playoffs in modern history and potentially ruined the Clippers' run at the Finals, might finally recede from the public consciousness now that Sterling has been punished. Of course, as long as he owns the team, there will still be the question of how long he'll remain a part of the league and who will take over when he's gone.
As has been pointed out by Grantland editor-in-chief and ESPN NBA analyst Bill Simmons (and everyone else in the media), the NBA created this problem by allowing a known racist, slumlord, and asshole to be a member of their exclusive club. Not only did they do that, but former NBA Commissioner David Stern gifted Sterling the most valuable asset a basketball team can have: a star.
By vetoing Chris Paul's trade to the Los Angeles Lakers and pushing him to the Clippers, the league blessed Sterling and his franchise in an unprecedented fashion. Until these revelations, the Paul trade seemed as though it was in everyone's best interest (except for my beloved Lakers). Paul got to escape the sinking ship in Lakerland, and was paired with fellow young superstar Blake Griffin. The league also created a new marquee franchise to further milk revenue out of America's second-biggest TV market. It was win-win for the whole league, except the owner of the Clippers is a next-level piece of shit.
Now, the NBA has an embarrassment on par with finding out the piece of paper you spilled your frappacino on was the Magna Carta. This, like any other sports or entertainment scandal, is ultimately ephemeral. It will go away. Professional sports leagues like the NBA, NFL, MLB, and the NHL have weathered numerous storms and thrived anyway.
The Marge Schott racism controversy that's been referenced many times during the last few days hit baseball hard in the 1990s, and for a time seemed to sully what was considered "America's Pastime." In fact, baseball is something of a magnet for media firestorms. The 1994 players' strike wiped out the whole second half of the season and the playoffs.
The steroid troubles of the second half of that decade appeared to be a devastating hammer blow to the entire game's credibility. Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, and countless other Hall of Fame-caliber players will forever be tained by their association with performance enhancing drugs. And yet, Major League Baseball is still a multi-billion dollar industry.This too, shall pass.
Why am I so confident that the NBA and the Clippers can move on from this? It's because Donald Sterling, for all of his transgressions, will die one day. As harsh as that sounds, it's the truth. The man is 80 years old and looks like a bag of mashed potatoes that got run over by an ATV. If this scandal doesn't kill him, sheer inevitability will. Biology will shut his body down, and cultural evolution will kill his poisonous ideas.
Some will say the NBA's punishment was too harsh, and some will say it wasn't enough, but it really doesn't matter. Had anyone uttered the name "Marge Schott" outside of a cop bar in Cincinnati in the last 20 years until this week? How many Little League baseball players are even aware of the systemic racism that defined Major League Baseball for the better part of the 20th century? I would hazard a guess that most sports fans can't even tell you the name of the white man who owns their team.
Fans root for teams, not owners. Clipper Darrell, the LA superfan above, doesn't wear Donald Sterling hats to Staples Center. He's a Clipper fan. Even though the Clippers won't remain the trendy club they have been the past three years, guys like Darrell will keep going to the games.
It was never about Donald Sterling. It wasn't even about winning or the "cool factor" for fans like him. Darrell was around when the team was the laughing stock of not just the NBA, but the entire sports world. Despite his dismay at Sterling's comments, he'll remain a Clipper fan because the day Donald Sterling is no longer the owner of his favorite team is closer than you'd think.
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