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Through Donald Sterling’s long history David Stern did nothing. Adam Silver must act.

Apr 27, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

Adam Silver Adam Silver

The first round of the NBA playoffs have been amazing — overtimes and game winners, upsets and tied series. It’s been the most thrilling first round in recent memory.

Now nobody is talking about it now — they are talking about Donald Sterling’s alleged comments to his girlfriend about black people.

It falls Adam Silver has to act in his role as commissioner to act and do it quickly and decisively — in a league so concerned about image that if a player does the “big balls dance” (ala Sam Cassell) to celebrate big bucket he gets a $25,000 fine this is a far more serious blow. Far more. This is Silver’s first big test and it’s a very public one.

The NBA is in this mess in part because former Commissioner David Stern didn’t act during a long litany of previous Sterling transgressions — some maybe not actionable by the league, but some were.

Just as a reminder, here are some Donald Sterling actions during the Stern era.

  • Sterling paid $2.75 million to settle a federal housing discrimination lawsuit, the largest sum in American history for such a suit. Testimony during that suit said Sterling (and his wife) did not want African-Americans or Hispanics as tenants and his people should try to get Koreans.
  • There was the lawsuit by former team GM Elgin Baylor — a lawsuit Sterling won — that was filled with stories such as when he told one coaching candidate “I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players.”
  • There was in that same lawsuit Baylor saying Sterling would bring female guests into the Clippers locker room to admire the players’ “beautiful black bodies.” Or the time in contract negotiations with Danny Manning when Sterling told him “that’s a lot of money for a poor black kid.”
  • He has been sued by Mike Dunleavy and virtually every former coach because once he fired them Sterling refused to pay the rest of their guaranteed contracts.
  • There was the time he was drunk with a woman on his arm at LAX to interview Rollie Massimino for the Clippers coaching job and asked “I wanna know why you think you can coach these n———-.’”
  • He had the franchise celebrate Black History Month in February by bringing a number of underprivileged youth to a Clippers game in March (aside the month error, the idea that “poor=black” was part of the impression).

That’s not a complete list, but you get the idea. This is far from the first time Sterling has embarrassed the league.

But as Roger Goodell has done with the Browns owner, as pretty much every commissioner has done with every owner in every league, David Stern did nothing. The Commissioners work for the owners and they tend to protect them. The other owners don’t push for action lest it boomerang back on them someday.

This time Silver can’t do that. If the league’s investigation finds that is Sterling on the TMZ tape he can’t stand by.

RELATED: Enablers must stop this already, writes Joe Posnanski

This has been a huge black eye for the league, one thanks to social media that has blown up in a way that some of his previous transgressions did not. Whether that’s fair or not. Whether this was is worse or not. This is the one that has become so big that President Barack Obama was asked about it during a press conference in Malaysia (where they have plenty more important things to discuss).

This is the one that rehashed a lot of his history for young NBA players that simply didn’t know (the way young people often are ignorant of history). They are now angry. A core NBA demographic is angry.

Silver has to act.

It appears the league can’t force Sterling to sell, but if that is him on the tape it may be time to push him away from the team for a while, as the MLB did with Marge Schott back in the day. Sterling loves basking in the celebrity of “his games” and his friends (and the people he wants to be his friends) coming to see his team play. Take that away from him and it’s a blow to him. It’s a start.

What Silver can’t do is sweep this under the rug. As Stern did too many times.

  1. Ferdinand - Apr 27, 2014 at 12:20 PM

    Watching closely. Not holding my breath.

  2. seahonky - Apr 27, 2014 at 12:27 PM

    As I listened to the tape, I couldn’t help but think that this gold digger girl friend is antagonizing this guy.

    • Miami305 - Apr 27, 2014 at 8:35 PM

      It is obvious that Sterling is a scumbag, but the woman on the tape repeatedly baited Sterling and was purposely trying to get him to make racist statements. Sterling would be talking about something unrelated to race and then the woman would say something like, “Why do you hate minorities? They are both the worst type of human beings.

      • sdeberg - Apr 27, 2014 at 10:22 PM

        Your point? He said the words…regardless of context, is it good he said them?

      • cmehustle - Apr 28, 2014 at 12:28 AM

        If you want to go deep into her reasons behind baiting him into those statements then the obvious question is why? I mean if you ask me those questions your not going to get anything because Im not a racist. So why would she ask those questions unless she knew the answers? My guess, shes heard all of this before, now she just wanted to get it on tape because maybe she felt no one would believe her? Either way shes not the scum bag here, only the Donald.

    • mariann1929 - Apr 27, 2014 at 11:05 PM

      The gold digger got this guy to imitate Sterling’s voice over tape to get back at him because she is being sued for 1.8 milliom that she embezzled. Players should grow up and not act like children. Wait until they find out if this video is his voice or not. Because of the stupid actions of the Clippers I am glad they lost. That’s their punishment for jumping the gun and they could lose again. Magic Johnson, Jackson, Sharpton, Barkley should stay quiet and Obama should not get involved in this situation. Due to the fact he is not black he is mulatto but people don’t know the difference or they are not educated enough.

      • Wammy Giveaway - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:52 AM

        So you think the Clipper players, coaches, and employees are revolting against the owner?

        You know, all you’re doing is helping the Lakers. In fact, that’s what Sterling wants. Rumor is he’s been purposing rigging games over the years to help the Lakers become the de facto franchise of the NBA. And he uses the Clippers as game gainers.

        Everybody in the Clipper organization knew about him. It’s the fact that Sterling had accomplices to keep his racist character hidden from public view.

        You need to realize that.

  3. mogogo1 - Apr 27, 2014 at 12:33 PM

    It wasn’t just Sterling, Stern never took a stand with an owner in his entire tenure over anything large or small. The Maloofs were allowed to destroy their franchise and jerk the fans around, he gave an expansion team the league really didn’t need to Charlotte to make up for his not stopping the Hornets from moving under their horrific owner at the time….

    • Wammy Giveaway - Apr 27, 2014 at 1:28 PM

      Which makes me believe the NBA was hiding something. Jerry Buss is unfortunately involved, for he was the man responsible for introducing Sterling to the NBA, after he helped Buss buy the Lakers.

      The NBA has to answer for this. The more things we find on Sterling’s tapes, the more the NBA could be looked at as nothing more than a corrupt, criminal sports organization.

      • mariann1929 - Apr 27, 2014 at 11:10 PM

        How do you know its his voice on the tapes. You don’t. Everyone is jumping to conclusions and the tapes are being investigated. If they find out it isn’t Sterlings voice he should fine his players 25,000 each for what they did. They need to grow and stop acting like a child. This man isn’t guilty until proven. I am delighted the Clippers lost and hope they lose again.

    • sw19womble - Apr 27, 2014 at 3:11 PM

      Seattle Supersonics

  4. asimonetti88 - Apr 27, 2014 at 12:42 PM

    Sterling also promised a large amount of money and land to build a homeless shelter, before withdrawing that promise to use that land for his own real-estate prospects.

  5. timmons94 - Apr 27, 2014 at 1:10 PM

    Want to punish him.. Make him live in Cleveland or Detoilet. Or gangsters paradise Chicago… Liberal cities gone wild. Obama. Shut up. No one wants to hear anything u say . Ever .

    • chiadam - Apr 27, 2014 at 9:00 PM

      You’re not very smart, right?

      • timmons94 - Apr 27, 2014 at 9:11 PM

        aww, adam offended….yake your liberal crybaby rear end and get a job you loser

    • sdeberg - Apr 27, 2014 at 10:21 PM

      Just one word. OK two. Ignorant. And idiot. Lucky for you they start with the same letter. Easier for you to understand.

    • lunasceiling - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:34 AM

      It takes a special kind of idiot to drag inane partisan politics into this. You’re that idiot. Strap on your orange football helmet, jump on the short bus, and GTFO.

  6. vegasdestroyer - Apr 27, 2014 at 1:27 PM

    Sterling can always buy an NFL team; Goodell thinks derogatory names like the Redskins are fine.

    • Miami305 - Apr 27, 2014 at 8:36 PM

      Redskins is not derogatory to anyone but white liberal democrats.

  7. timmons94 - Apr 27, 2014 at 1:30 PM

    Lol Vegas. Your a typical liberal whiner. Obama is proud

    • hurricanegrabowski - Apr 27, 2014 at 7:22 PM

      And the demographic you likely belong to is proud of the fact that you insult another person while making a spelling error.

  8. marbulz - Apr 27, 2014 at 1:33 PM

    Punishment has to be given out correctly whether their white ,black ,hispanic or asian whatever if it isn’t going to just go away, not now not ever. then it will just get worse and escalate Out of control .welcome to an NBA that does nothing .and look for future with people asking for silvers head for not taking action

  9. tmdill18 - Apr 27, 2014 at 1:38 PM

    David Stern was an overrated a-hole. Gets way too much credit. The NBA has thrived in spite of that arrogant jerk.

  10. cubb1 - Apr 27, 2014 at 2:36 PM

    Sterling is a racist P.O.S.

  11. vegasdestroyer - Apr 27, 2014 at 3:17 PM

    California makes it a crime to record or eavesdrop on any confidential communication, including a private conversation or telephone call, without the consent of all parties to the conversation. See Cal. Penal Code § 632. The statute applies to “confidential communications” — i.e., conversations in which one of the parties has an objectively reasonable expectation that no one is listening in or overhearing the conversation. S

  12. chiadam - Apr 27, 2014 at 4:51 PM

    “It falls Adam Silver has to act in his role as commissioner to act…”

    wait…what?

  13. johnheisman - Apr 27, 2014 at 4:55 PM

    Sterling has been the worst team owner is sports and it is not close. His teams have had the worst winning percentage over a sustained period of time and he was a big reason why. What I could not understand was why Doc Rivers would want to coach the team with Sterling as the owner and I am sure it was a concideration. Obviously they have some great players but I think with this news, the team has already peaked and I can see the team going back to its losing ways fast. Players and coaches will not want anything to do with this clown.

    Why would anyone want to play for the Clippers IF you have alternatives. Only players needing to cash checks will play for the Clippers along with draft picks on their first contract. Just like old times. As a Celtics fan, I hope the losing starts soon as the Celtics have the Clippers pick in the draft next year. No way the Clippers ever contend with Sterling as the owner.

    • lunasceiling - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:36 AM

      “Sterling has been the worst team owner is sports and it is not close.”

      Yep…he actually makes Vincent Tan (Cardiff in the EPL) look competent.

  14. antistratfordian - Apr 27, 2014 at 6:57 PM

    In David Stern’s defense – had he been presented with a caught-red-handed recording like this I think he would’ve been compelled to do something dramatic – but that never materialized during his tenure.

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