The current owner of the Clippers, Donald Sterling, is not a very nice man.
He has been sued repeatedly for race-based discrimination. He has had to settle those cases. He is married and takes his girlfriend to basketball games, which too many people find acceptable. But what's more, it is pretty apparent his girlfriend goaded Donald Sterling into saying what he said for reasons that still are not necessarily clear.
No one should excuse what Donald Sterling said, but it is clear that Sterling's girlfriend spent a lot of time working Sterling up to making his now-infamous comments. In fact, in about 10 minutes of recordings there are not very many minutes of awful statements. It was somewhat striking that, for all of what he said, in the released audio he never hurled racial epithets. He referred to people as "minorities" and "black people."
But Sterling did tell his girlfriend that she should not associate with black people in public. It fits a long pattern of suits against him for racial discrimination. Donald Sterling has been this way for a long time. The NBA has known it and the NBA has turned a blind eye toward it until the public, and more importantly the players, demanded action.
Now the mob wants Donald Sterling's team forcibly removed from him, which would earn him several hundred million dollars in the process. Donald Sterling signed up to be an NBA owner. He knew the terms of the deal. And the NBA knew he was not a great person, but let it go on and on and on until public outrage forced their hand.
The incident that sets the precedent is never the problem. The precedent, however, is now set that if an NBA owner is outed as saying privately things that offend publicly while being surreptitiously taped, the public can force the NBA to force him to give up his team, fine him and ban him for life. Again, Sterling isn't being punished for being racist. We already knew his history -- which, by the way, begs the question of why the NAACP was going to honor him. It seems even groups like the NAACP were perfectly happy to coddle a man like this and take his money despite his documented history until it became inconvenient for them all.
Sterling is being punished for having his documented views made public in a recording that personalizes multiple sterile legal disputes against him from several years ago that the NBA chose to ignore. The NBA cannot ignore it now that the public is outraged.