May 13, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
On Monday, the day LeBron James dropped 49 points in a playoff game in New York, the big NBA story was what Donald Sterling said about Magic Johnson, and about how Sterling is 100 percent sure the players still love him (the same players that wore their warm-ups inside out and were ready to boycott a game because of him).
On Sunday, the day of maybe the biggest and most dramatic win in Clipper franchise history, the big NBA story was early leaked comments from Donald’s interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. After that it was Shelly Sterling sitting down in an interview to try and distance herself from her husband of 58 years and say she would fight to keep control of the team. The team came in third.
Right now the Sterlings are stealing the spotlight from the players, team and league they claim they love. They are making themselves the story. Which is exactly who they always have been, something that was always obvious when the media room at Staples Center became “Club Sterling” before Clippers games, with one or both of the Sterlings holding court with their “friends.” As ESPN’s J.A. Adande said perfectly, the Sterlings don’t love the Clippers, they love owning the Clippers.
This parade of Sterling interviews not ending soon, Shelly is scheduled to be on The Today Show Tuesday peddling her “I’m just the poor, innocent wife” routine (which is far from the truth).
All of this just strengthens the case to remove them.
It certainly seems to have hardened public support against them (at least based on social media responses).
The league’s case is built around the clause in the franchise agreement that Sterling signed saying he would not engage in unethical conduct or take “positions that have a materially adverse effect on the league.”
In plain language — don’t say things that mess with the bottom line. This is all about the money. It’s convenient that the league’s moral outrage can tie into this, but if it was moral outrage alone the league could have acted years ago. Now there is a new commissioner, but also money is involved.
Sterling’s racist rant, whether he intended it to be public or not, messed with the bottom line — sponsors have pulled away from his team, players have threatened a boycott, and here we are in the middle of the playoffs not talking about the playoffs.
Every time one of the Sterlings’ opens their mouth, the case against them gets stronger because they hurt the league.
Donald Sterling may have felt like he was getting in front of his public relations disaster with that Anderson Cooper interview, but there was no sponsor, no player, no fan who watched that and came around to his way of thinking. He came off as sad, confused and a little bitter, not as a sympathetic figure.
Donald Sterling was worse for the NBA bottom line after that interview — especially after he ripped Magic Johnson again. Shelly Sterling faired no better in her interviews.
The league feels it is on solid legal footing to remove them — Sterling signed the franchise agreement with the league. This is kind of akin to an owner of a McDonald’s or Subway violating their franchise agreements — if a store owner does something that embarrasses or damages the Subway brand and the corporation can yank their franchise. While it’s not identical the same basic principle is at work here — Donald Sterling is bad for business and the other owners can kick him out of the club. Shelly Sterling may own half the team but she is not the controlling owner and the league argues that most teams have minority owners that could lose their rights if the controlling owner screwed up. She is bound by the same franchise agreement.
Adam Silver’s statement in the wake of Donald Sterling’s CNN interview was more than an apology to Magic, the last line was a reminder to the other owners what they need to do — “The NBA Board of Governors is continuing with its process to remove Mr. Sterling as expeditiously as possible.” Silver wants him gone as soon as possible.
Because he’s bad for business.
And every time he speaks he makes the case against him that much stronger.
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