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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
Fans hold up signs in support of the Los Angeles Clippers before Game 5 of the team’s opening-round playoff series against Golden State on Tuesday.

Silver sterling with ban on owner

– So now fledgling NBA commissioner Adam Silver has shown his hand, and there is no velvet glove within miles of it. If NFL commish Roger Goodell is the Hammer, then Silver is the Jackhammer.

This after Silver dropped a wagonload of hurt Tuesday on the NBA’s longtime miscreant-in-chief, Clippers owner Donald Sterling, banning him for life from the NBA and his team and recommending his ouster as owner.

It was the right and just thing to do – and, let’s not kid ourselves, it was also the only thing Silver could have done.

A man who’s in charge of a multibillion-dollar sports empire whose workforce is 78 percent black simply couldn’t abide the further presence of an unvarnished racist among his ownership group. If he had – if he’d handed down anything less than a lifetime ban – not just the workforce but the league’s other owners would have broken out the torches and pitchforks.

So, yes, this was Silver’s only recourse, and let’s be clear about something else, too: This was not just about Sterling caught on tape saying he didn’t want his girlfriend to bring black people to his team’s games.

This was, in a sense, a lifetime achievement award in reverse.

Sterling long ago established his racist bonafides, as it were, paying millions to settle discrimination suits brought against him because he didn’t want blacks and Hispanics living in his buildings. That’s far more substantive than saying you don’t want Magic Johnson at Clippers’ games, because it’s action and not just words. And actions actually have consequences – real, harmful consequences – for the people against whom they’re carried out.

And yet Silver’s predecessor, David Stern, did nothing – in fact, he actually rewarded Sterling for his 33 years of incompetent ownership by handing him Chris Paul on a silver platter. None of what transpired in the last week would have transpired had Stern taken as firm a hold on Sterling as Silver was finally forced to, instead of leaving his successor to clean up what was essentially Stern’s mess.

And as to whether the other owners actually have the legal ability to force Sterling to sell ... well, that remains to seen. As Mavericks owner Mark Cuban pointed out today, it’s a slippery slope, trying to force a man to sell his property because he happens to hold repugnant views. On the other hand, it may not be that slippery a slope.

This is, after all, a country in which people are forced to sell their properties or businesses virtually every day. It’s called a hostile takeover, and if it doesn’t have anything to do with an individual’s views on race, it’s nonetheless the same principle at work: Making a guy sell when he doesn’t want to.

Hard telling whether Sterling will want to. I’m guessing the situation will resolve itself; already the team’s sponsors are deserting it in droves, and Sterling’s ownership stake in the Clippers, should it continue, could well become an issue when the NBA negotiates its next TV deal. And, as we all know, TV dollars are what drive the bus these days.

Silver did the only thing he could do to keep that bus from going over a cliff.

Raise a glass to the man.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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