Suddenly, the excitement of playoff basketball has become almost an afterthought as the purported racist remarks of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling have been caught in a recording.
There have been many erratic owners in sports because they need to prove only that they have the assets to buy a team, not the intelligence or rational beliefs to run it.
Probably the closest to Sterling in basketball is Ted Stepien, who ran the Cleveland Cavaliers into the ground in the ’70s with his bad decisions. The NBA even put in what became known as the “Stepien Rule” to prevent a team from trading its first-round draft pick in consecutive years.
But the closest to Sterling is probably baseball’s Marge Schott, who ran the Cincinnati Reds until she was forced to sell the team in 1999. Schott hated blacks and Jews, and she was an alcoholic. The trifecta. She was first suspended in 1993 when she declared that Hitler had the right idea but went too far. She was suspended in 1996 because she kept drinking and talking.
Sterling doesn’t appear to be an alcoholic, but he’s a racist and an owner in a league that is overwhelmingly black. You’d think by now he’d know enough to keep his comments to himself, but his ego doesn’t allow for caution. The comments made by him are apparently legitimate because he’s made no attempt to deny them.
His comments shocked his players. I believe the Warriors were going to win Sunday’s Game 4 because they knew they had to. A 3-1 disadvantage in a playoff series has been fatal to the Warriors in the 12 previous times they’ve faced that. So, they were fired up, and nobody more so than Stephen Curry, who hit five 3-point shots in the first quarter. When he’s shooting like that, he’s unstoppable because he shoots off the dribble without stopping to set himself.
But any doubt about the eventual outcome was eliminated when it was obvious the Clippers were in shock over Sterling’s comments. They wore their shirts inside out for warmups so the team’s name wouldn’t show. They wore their regular jerseys for the game, but they played like mechanical men. It was especially noticeable with Blake Griffin, who usually plays with an unmatched fury. On Sunday, that competitive fire was banked.
Originally, I thought the Clippers would certainly win this series, perhaps in just six games. Now, nothing is certain. Perhaps they’ll be able to put this behind them, perhaps not, which would mean the Warriors will advance to the next round.
But basketball is a secondary issue now. New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver faces a tough decision, but one he absolutely has to make, to force Sterling out of the game.
Some very important voices are being heard now. One of them is Magic Johnson — whom Sterling said he did not want to see at Clippers games. Another is Kevin Johnson, the former Cal and NBA star who is now the mayor of Sacramento and has campaigned successfully to keep the Kings in his city, working with the players union. The NAACP is involved.
The next move is yours, commissioner, and it will be your defining action.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.Donald SterlingGlenn DickeyGolden State WarriorsLos Angeles Clippers