The public outrage over a recording of racist comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to his then girlfriend V. Stiviano has been so great that the NBA has been forced to take action. As a result on Tuesday, April 30 the NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, handed down the harshest punishment in basketball history when he banned Sterling for life, fined him $2.5 million, and said he would have the other owners pressure Sterling to sell the team. While this is a fit punishment, the NBA must be careful who they pressure Sterling to sell the team to. Whatever else is said about Sterling he did an excellent job building the team from obscurity to championship contenders. What the team needs is a buyer who knows the inner workings of the team and help maintain stability during a tumultuous time. While the NBA may receive a lot of publicity for selling the team to one of the many celebrities who have been expressed an interest in it doing this would be a mistake. A celebrity who is interested in a high profile team while well intentioned may not have the business knowledge necessary to run the team. The Clippers have never won a division title let alone a championship but have been contenders in recent years. Selling it to a high profile buyer more concerned with removing Sterling’s image from the team than with its continued success may destroy it & return it to obscurity.
The first task the NBA must accomplish is to force a sale which they seem intent on doing. After a meeting of the leagues ten member advisory/finance committee Thursday, May 1 via conference call forcing a sale as quickly as possible was agreed upon. However, forcing Sterling to sell is going to be an easy task. Sterling bought the team 33 years ago and has enjoyed building them from the laughing stock of the league into championship contenders. He has made good personnel decisions hiring a management team that has built up the team’s image and recruited quality players. Sterling has stood by the team refusing to move them out of LA or sell the team in spite of previous offers. Known for being a litigious guy it is likely he will sue the league before he sells the team. Plus with the news that Sterling has been battling prostate cancer for some time it seems more and more likely that he will die still owning the Clippers.
Since Silver’s announcement on Tuesday the Clippers have been under the management of team president Andy Roeser. However this choice has drawn a lot of criticism because Roeser initially released a statement giving Sterling the benefit of the doubt over the his comments. This is unfair, Roeser is not supporting the comments he was simply giving his boss the benefit of the doubt, what else was he supposed to do? Forget the fact that Roeser is the best leader for the team at the moment, the NBA is bowing to public pressure and appointing a temporary CEO. This person whoever it is will have the power to remove Roeser if he deems it appropriate. This is a huge mistake. Bringing in an outsider to run a team that is going through a very rough transition could make it rougher and set the team back.
Maintaining continuity must be a major factor when the team is finally sold. A lot of high profile names have emerged as potential buyers for the team including Floyd Mayweather Jr, Sean Combs, Magic Johnson, and a group that is made up of Oprah Winfrey, David Geffen, and Larry Ellison. With the exception of Larry Ellison none of these names has had much experience in the business side of running a sports team, Ellison owns the BNP Paribas Open/Indian Wells Tennis tournament played in Indian Wells in March. While these buyers may generate a lot of positive headlines their inexperience running a team may hurt The Clippers. It would be all too easy for one of these celebrities to remove all presence of Sterling by removing the current management team and bringing in their own people. Sterling is banned for life, he is gone and given his cancer may not be alive much longer. The new buyer needs to understand Sterling is no longer important. What is important is to work with the management team in place to maintain stability and continue the success of the team.
In light of this what should the NBA do? Why not turn over control of the team to Sterling estranged wife, Rochelle who is an active part of team management & owns part of it. Although Rochelle and Sterling have been married for 59 years they have been separated for many years; although they are seen together at games they do not live together. Rochelle does not shares her husband’s racist views and the team showed their support of her by welcoming her presence at game five of their first Round playoff series against Golden State. Clippers coach Doc Rivers said in her support, “It’s a tough one for Shelly, really. She didn’t do anything wrong. You have compassion for her… I talked to her today, and she’s been through as much as anyone as well.” The team and the coach support her, she’s already part of the management making her a logical choice to lead the team. Of course this is not likely to happen since her association with Sterling is to close and she is guilty by association in the public’s eye.
The NBA has two choices here. Sell the team to a high profile celebrity, get a lot of positive publicity for doing it and run the risk of the team faltering as a result. Option two, let the public outrage die down a bit and then force Sterling to sell it, if they can, to someone who has experience running a team and will maintain the continuity of the Clippers. This would give the franchise a greater chance of staying a championship contender, and building a strong future. Wouldn’t the worst outcome of this whole scandal be for the team to collapse and once again become the laughing stock of the league?