We learned a great deal today from the back-to-back press conferences of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and National Basketball Players Association liaison/Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. Let’s count it down.
1. History is made. Donald Sterling, when he was growing up as Donnie Tokowitz in Boyle Heights, always wanted to be a big shot, and now he is: the first major sports owner in the United States to ever be banned for life.
2. Audio/video is king in today’s media. The end of Donald Sterling did not come from years of racist behavior as a slumlord, the damning court documents about his behavior or the hearsay of others. It happened because people heard with their own words the man’s vile racism and—although much less commented upon—his deep misogyny. They were repelled and Sterling was toast.
3. Open, abject racism is bad for business. Sterling has been a racist for years but this audiotape has sponsors fleeing for the hills, players stewing with thoughts of rebellion and coaches calling for fan boycotts. Business as usual was not going to cut it. In what Michelle Alexander calls “the New Jim Crow in an age of color blindness,” being an old-school open racist is toxic.
4. Adam Silver does not want to be David Stern. Silver’s predecessor David Stern coddled Donald Sterling for decades. Adam Silver, Stern’s lieutenant for twenty years, was complicit in that process. But now that he is in charge, he wanted to send a very non–David Stern like message. Silver was without any of Stern’s unbearably pompous bearings, instead adopted the stretched mien of a funeral director. His punishment, the maximum allowable under the NBA’s owners’ constitution, was as strong a sanction as he could deliver at this particular moment.
5. Questions remain. Yes, Donald Sterling is banned for life, but he still profits from the success of his team. Yes, Donald Sterling has been publicly humiliated, but Adam Silver has still not accounted for why the NBA ownership fraternity has coddled him for all of these years. Yes, Donald Sterling is being pushed out of ownership, but in Silver’s comments, he clearly was keeping the door open for Sterling’s wife, Rochelle, to assume control of the organization. Given Rochelle Sterling’s role in Donald Sterling’s slum empire, this is problematic, to put it mildly.