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.
But the public should also be outraged that the NBA had to be embarrassed. And the public should be embarrassed that so many are using a possibly illegally and definitely surreptitiously made recording that was pretty clearly designed to get the guy to say those things.
Within 48 hours, activists were running with this new precedent. Gay rights activists began demanding the owner of the Orlando Magic be forced to sell his team. Dick Devos, whose family owns the Magic, is an evangelical Christian. He supports traditional marriage. For this sin, he must be punished by the crowd.
It may be, however, that activists have overplayed their hand. While 3/4 of NBA owners can force one of their own to sell his team, the rush to attack other owners over their views may make the current owners second guess a forced sale. If the mob can go after one man, they can go after others, too.
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, suggested last week that forcing a sale over private statements made in one's own home might not be wise. The owners could be putting themselves on treacherous ground and seem to know it.
If Donald Sterling is forced to sell his team, he would wind up making hundreds of millions of dollars as punishment. The issue is not now what happens to Donald Sterling, but what happens to the next person surreptitiously recorded in the privacy of his home.