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Mercury News: Sterling had to go, and the NBA knew it
The San Jose Mercury News
First Published Apr 30 2014 10:43 am • Last Updated Apr 30 2014 10:43 am

The world now knows what the NBA has to have known for 30 years: Donald Sterling is a racist.

One way or another, he had to go. NBA Commissioner Alex Silver understood that and took the proper course of action Tuesday, imposing a lifetime ban, a $5 million fine and a directive to the league’s board of governors to implement the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to new ownership.

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This was a rare, courageous stand by a commissioner in professional sports history and re-establishes the NBA as the most progressive sports league in the world. The commissioner’s act is even more impressive considering that he has only been on the job for three months.

But sports fans also need to remember that the NBA let its Sterling problem fester for decades.

The other owners apparently were willing to turn a blind eye because his views had yet to become public and because under Sterling, the Clippers generally were considered the laughingstock of the league, seldom making the playoffs and routinely bungling draft picks, trades and contract decisions. Why bother with them?

We may never know the extent to which former Commissioner David Stern and the 29 other league owners knew about Sterling’s racism, but there were strong hints.

In 2009, the billionaire real estate mogul paid a record $2.725 million to settle a federal housing discrimination case. He was charged with routinely seeking to exclude black and Latino tenants from the properties he owned in the Los Angeles region.

Later that year, former NBA legend Elgin Baylor, the longtime Clipper general manager, who is black, sued Sterling for wrongful termination. Baylor said that Sterling ran the Clipper franchise with a "vision of a Southern plantation-type structure," employing "poor black boys from the South" as players.

Baylor lost his lawsuit, but his claims are eerily echoed in the recording of Sterling’s racial remarks that was released earlier this week.

Silver, the current NBA commissioner, said Tuesday that Sterling admitted the voice on the recording was his. Silver said he did not know whether the Clippers’ owner, who himself is an attorney, would fight the lifetime ban and the forced sale of the team.

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Regardless, the league did the right thing. The NBA sent a clear message to the league’s players, 75 percent of whom are black, that it will not tolerate racist behavior.

Silver did not lose sight of the fact that it was the NBA that birthed the first black head coach of any major professional sport in Bill Russell. The league was also the first to have a black general manager and a black owner.

Magic Johnson is reportedly interested in buying the Clippers. The league couldn’t have a better outcome than for the NBA legend and savvy businessman to take over ownership from Sterling.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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