By Bill Plaschke Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Call it the most spectacular slam dunk in professional basketball history.
With one dazzling, devastating move, the NBA has thrown down against evil.
Thankfully, finally, Donald Sterling is done.
The man who poisoned the Los Angeles Clippers for nearly 30 years with his ignorance and hate has at last been dragged away into sweet oblivion.
Four days after the release of audiotapes on which Sterling is heard making racist comments, the NBA has banned the Clippers owner for life.
“We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Tuesday morning. “They simply have no place in the NBA.”
Sterling was also fined the maximum $2.5 million, but, for the eccentric billionaire who viewed his team as a way to be accepted among his social circle, the lost money is nothing compared with his lost status.
No longer can he sit at courtside with his chest puffed out. No longer can he entertain friends in the press room after games. No longer can he go into the locker room and lead the team in awkward cheers.
The lifetime ban essentially takes away every reason that Donald Sterling has for owning the team, which would seem to make it another slam dunk that he would sell it.
But not so fast. Even in a decision that was celebrated by players and owners alike, there is a loophole.
Bottom line, right now, it is still Sterling’s team. Beginning Tuesday night with the Clippers playoff game against the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center, every penny earned by the Clippers for the foreseeable future still goes into Donald Sterling’s pocket.
The owners can force Sterling to sell the team with a three-fourths majority vote, and Silver said, “I will urge the Board of Governors to exercise authority to force a sale of the team … and I’ll do everything in my power to ensure that that happens.”
Surely, in this climate, few owners would have the gall to allow Sterling to keep the team. Again, this seems like another slam dunk.
But remember, some of these same owners have tolerated Sterling’s racist antics for years. And while Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, publicly supported Silver’s decision, he had previously wondered about the fairness of judging any owner for private words instead of public actions.
Cuban called it “a slippery slope,” so it’s fair to worry that even though Sterling can no longer be around the Clippers, it could be a long while before he is removed from the Clippers bank accounts.
Already, the players union has asked the league for a timetable on the forcing of a sale. If there is no potential sale this summer, Silver left open the possibility of Clippers players voiding their contracts. And don’t forget, Clippers coach Doc Rivers has already essentially said he wouldn’t continue coaching a Donald Sterling team past this season.
And, oh yes, Sterling has a history of suing everything that moves, so who knows when his name is finally off the deed?
So many questions remain, questions that will still have to be answered by players, fans and sponsors as this postseason moves forward. This issue still has potential to put the Clippers in all sorts of messy situations.
But thankfully, finally, the stain that is Donald Sterling is being wiped clean.