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After those racists comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling were confirmed, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned him from the league for life, fined him $2.5 million and said the other owners would force him to sell the team.
But there are critics of the idea that Sterling should be forced to sell the Clippers. As Mike Pesca writes in Slate, “Donald Sterling is a vile racist… But even a horrible human being doesn’t deserve to have his property stripped away.”
Pesca discusses that point of view with Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
And today, the NBA owners' advisory and finance committee is discussed in the next steps regarding Donald Sterling, the L.A. Clippers owner who was banned from the NBA for life, after being caught on tape making racist comments. On Tuesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver endorsed a forced sale of the team.
ADAM SILVER: As for Mr. Sterling's ownership interest in the Clippers, I will urge the board of governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team, and will do everything in my power to ensure that that happens.
HOBSON: That would require the votes of three-quarters of the league's 29 other owners. And Silver said on Tuesday he was confident he has those votes. But HERE AND NOW sports analyst Mike Pesca says this sets a bad precedent. He hosts the podcast The Gist on Slate.com and he joins us now.
And, Mike, you say Donald Sterling is a vile racist but you say he shouldn't be forced to sell the team. Why not?
MIKE PESCA: I think there are a couple of troubling things about the entire set of circumstances. One: the tape that we have of Sterling is probably most likely illegally recorded. And the only way that that was addressed was that Adam Silver said: Well, OK, that's true, but now that we know we have to act on it. I understand that point but it's very problematic.
Two: it was a thought crime. I mean they're coming down hard on these thoughts of Sterling's. They're horrible thoughts. They're vile thoughts. They're thoughts you don't want in the league. And I understand if you're a black player or anyone of conscience, you would say: I'm not going to play for this guy, I don't give this guy any money, he needs to be out.
Yet it is his property. And I think that stripping a person of one's property, based on terrible thoughts that he expresses, is a really bad and dangerous thing. Now, they can do it. I'm not saying they can't do it. It's like a co-op board, it's a franchise. I don't think that they've thought about it enough. And even when Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, said essentially what I'm saying now, it's a little bit of a slippery slope - what if they don't like my thoughts. The next day he turned around and said: You know what? A hundred percent great that they're taking out of the league.
HOBSON: OK, I want to get to a lot of the things that you just brought up there. First of all, let's talk about the idea of stripping him of his property. He wouldn't be stripped of his property. He would be forced to sell it for hundreds of millions of dollars more than he paid for it.
PESCA: Yeah. No, that's a good point. I shouldn't have said stripping of his property. That's not right. That takes it too far. I still think that forcing someone to sell is a bad - or it's at least a precedence to grapple with more than the NBA seems to have done.
He's a terrible person. I will not shed a tear. I want him to get his comeuppance. I think a better way for the commissioner to have done it would be perhaps to hold this over his head and to say that, you know, we'd like Sterling to come to this decision on his own. And also, you know, if fans - even encourage fans, if fans want to turn their back on the team, that is totally legitimate. And maybe, this is the suggestion of the Houston Rockets owners, maybe all the players under his contract could become free agents so you don't have to play for the team.
If he had trouble actually fielding a team, I mean why would the NBA do this, right? This would hurt NBA - the NBA's interest. But that seems to be more just than terrible person says terrible things, therefore from on high we remove the wart and don't really, you know, discuss what's going on subcutaneously.
HOBSON: OK, let me get to one other part of that which is that he has violated the rules of this league that he's in. It's not that they're making him sell his house. That's just his house and has nothing to do with anybody else. It's they are forcing him to sell something that is part of a league that has rules.
PESCA: If you look at the NBA charter, which was heretofore a secret document, they spell out all the rules that a violation of which would redound to you being stripped of your team. They're mostly about gambling. There are some of them are about economic rules and not having enough money.
There's nothing in there about having moronic thoughts or odious opinions, you know. There is a general clause, as most organizations like this have, where you say, you know, or anything else the commissioner deems, you know, impermissible or terrible. That's what they're going on.
If you look though at the letter of the law, the maximum fine for those odious thoughts or anything the commissioner wants to do, the maximum fine is a million. And they did fine him two and a half million. The league allows for two and a half million dollar fine but that's only on the spelled-out rules related to gambling and so forth.
I don't know if that's a good argument. I'm pretty sure Donald Sterling will be making this argument as he litigates that, which brings us to another point, this great moment where he asks - where Silver asks for this vote and he thinks that the owners are going to back him up. You know, if Sterling drags this out and plays this out in court, this can undo this entire moment.
You know, so I don't know how it will play out. But if it comes to pass that Sterling wins a court case or plays a court case out so long, or dies while it's still being litigated, it will be seen much less of a triumph.
HOBSON: OK, Mark Cuban, who you brought up, has said similar things to what you are saying. Let's listen to a clip of him speaking before the lifetime ban punishment was announced.
MARK CUBAN: In this country, people are allowed to be morons. They're allowed to be stupid, they're allowed to think idiotic thoughts. And, you know, within an organization like the NBA, we try to do what's in the best interest of the league, and that's why we have a commissioner and a constitution, and I think Adam will, you know, be smart and, you know, deal with Donald to the full extent available to him.
But again, in terms of just saying a blanket let's kick him out, I don't want to go that far because that - it's not about Donald, it's not about his position. It's about who's next.
HOBSON: Those comments from Mark Cuban. But Mike Pesca, you have brought up the fact that it's interesting that the NBA is reacting so harshly now when this guy's got quite a history, Sterling.
PESCA: Yeah, I think it's interesting. I also think it's predictable and odious. I'm not saying that, hey, they got it wrong in the past, therefore they shouldn't do anything in the present. It's separate arguments. I do think that this moment of triumph that Adam Silver is being credited for should be less seen as a bold, brave, moral stance and more seen as a prudent business decision that's covering up for the flaws in ethics that the NBA has been exhibiting for years and years and years.
And one thing that I really wanted to see that isn't being done and is being brushed aside is I'd love to see an investigation, a soul-searching, legitimate internal investigation about how someone like Donald Sterling could have been allowed to operate given his documented past of housing discrimination and racism.
This is a real moment, a real reckoning, a real time to say that racism will not be allowed to exist in our major sports. I'd like to see baseball look at Jim Crane, the owner of the Astros, who - I'm not comparing, I'm not equating with Donald Sterling, but he has business practices, he has EEOC violations, he has statements like don't hire black people because you can't fire black people, and all baseball has done is backed up Jim Crane as a fine, upstanding man, who's, you know, gotten the blessing of the NAACP and black leaders and was properly vetted while he owned the team.
HOBSON: Mike Pesca, host of The Gist at Slate.com and HERE AND NOW's sports analyst. Mike, thanks so much.
PESCA: You're welcome.
HOBSON: And we'd love to hear from you because I know you've got thoughts on this. You can go to hereandnow.org and leave a comment. You can also send us a tweet, @hereandnow. I'm @jeremyhobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.