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Tuesday, April 29, 2014
More random thoughts on Donald Sterling

1) File this under "completely missing the symbolism." Last night, the Miami Heat recreated the Clippers' Sunday pre-game protest, leaving their warm-up jackets on the floor and wearing their shooting shirts inside-out, I guess as a show of solidarity. But the Clippers did this to symbolically reject that team name (and its association with that team owner), to say we play for ourselves and not for that name (and its association). But why are the Heat players rejecting the Heat name and ownership, which is what they did by obscuring their logos? It makes no sense, showing that the symbolic point of the warm-up protest (as opposed to wearing black socks, which other teams can and have recreated because it is generic) was lost or missed entirely.

2) A lot is being made of Donald Sterling's 30+-year history of misbehavior--particularly the almost-$3 million settlement of government-initiated lawsuit alleging discriminatory housing practices and the race- and age-discrimination lawsuit by former GM Elgin Baylor, in which Sterling prevailed--and why the NBA did not do something sooner. This conversation reminds me of the discussion following the multi-million-dollar sexual harassment verdict against Isiah Thomas in 2007, where then-Commissioner David Stern said the league would not get involved because this was a civil suit and not a criminal matter. I argued at the time that we needed a more-nuanced thinking, that there is a difference between civil matters directly implicating one's role in the league (such as a lawsuit claiming someone engaged in sexual harassment while running an NBA team) and other matters (such as a payment dispute with the contractor doing an addition to his house).

But I am wondering how to think about that line with respect to Sterling. The Baylor lawsuit fits my earlier framework, but is a mixed bag--while there were some damning allegations about Sterling's racist statements and attitudes, a jury ultimately found for Sterling. So while evidence shows him doing and saying some reprehensible things, he did not do anything legally wrong (based on the jury conclusion). Which piece should the league have seized upon?

More importantly, what about that housing-discrimination case? On one hand, how he operates one business says nothing about how he operates his NBA team; on the other hand, how he operates one business says everything about how he operates his NBA team. Are bad business practices in an unrelated business a bellwether of an owner's management style or are they the equivalent of a dispute with the contractor working on his house?

I am trying to figure out how to treat players, owners, and management consistently with respect to league punishment and non-league behavior. I wouldn't want a player suspended because of how his string of car dealerships are run. Should it be different for owners and, if so, why?


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