On Tuesday afternoon, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that he was banning Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life and fining him the league maximum of $2.5 million.
Silver also stated that he would do everything within his power to force the sale of the team. To do that, three-fourths of the owners would need to approve the sale. The announcement came after multiple audio recordings surfaced this weekend, in which Sterling was heard making racist statements.
The question on many people’s minds, though, was: what took so long to sanction Sterling?
Silver, who has only been on the job since February, said that this was the first instance in which tangible proof of Sterling’s racism had been brought to the league.
However, Sterling has a long track record of being investigated for racist acts. In 2009, Sterling paid over $2.7 million to settle a Department of Justice lawsuit alleging that he refused to rent apartments to blacks and Latinos at buildings he owns in Los Angeles. At the time, it was the largest housing discrimination settlement in U.S. history.
That same year, former Clippers general manager and NBA legend Elgin Baylor filed a wrongful termination suit against Sterling and others, alleging that the owner had a “Southern plantation-type structure” for the team. The suit accused Sterling of having a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude” during contract negotiations with former player Danny Manning. Sterling allegedly made the comments about Manning in the presence of then-NBA Commissioner David Stern. A jury in 2011 sided with Sterling.
Sterling has allegedly used racial slurs and made racist remarks going back to the early days of his ownership in the 1980s. NBA Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote in Time magazine this week that he was bothered that some people were surprised by the emergence of the tapes, which ultimately led to Sterling’s demise:
He was discriminating against black and Hispanic families for years, preventing them from getting housing. It was public record. We did nothing. Suddenly he says he doesn’t want his girlfriend posing with Magic Johnson on Instagram and we bring out the torches and rope. Shouldn’t we have all called for his resignation back then?
Yes, it took the recordings (followed by the loss of corporate sponsors) to bring down Sterling. Still, Silver’s decision has been lauded by just about everyone. Among these is former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson:
Also showing his support is current Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Previously, Cuban called Sterling’s remarks “abhorrent” but said that it was a “slippery slope” to force a sale:
I agree 100% with Commissioner Silvers findings and the actions taken against Donald Sterling— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) April 29, 2014
Before the sale of the Clippers can be forced, three-fourths of the remaining NBA owners—22 out of 29—have to approve the decision. While speaking to SportsCenter moments after the press conference, former NBA coach and current analyst Jeff Van Gundy said that he would hope that this crucial vote be made public. A secret election would essentially shield owners who voted against the sale from public scrutiny.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the Clippers franchise could fetch as much as $700 million.
Despite its short lifespan, Commissioner Silver’s legacy already differs greatly from that of his predecessor, David Stern. As Washington Post reporter Mark Berman noted on Twitter, it took Silver less than three months to oust Sterling, something Stern couldn’t—or wouldn’t—do in his 30 years as commissioner.
The ban should also endear Silver to a league full of predominantly black players. This, too, would be a stark difference from Stern, who in 2005 caused controversy after he instituted a business casual dress code for its athletes.
Stephen Jackson, who played for the Indiana Pacers at the time, and Jason Richardson—formerly of the Golden State Warriors and now with the Philadelphia 76ers—accused Stern and the league of unjustly targeting black players.
And so one of the most embarrassing chapters in professional sports ends, with swift justice from an exemplar how a commissioner should lead. Now, if only other leagues would take note.
Fidel Martinez is an editor at Fusion.net. He's also a Texas native and a lifelong El Tri fan.
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.