NBA's Sterling problem is far from over

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports

Like it or not, Donald Sterling does have some legal options in the aftermath of his lifetime ban from the NBA.

There seems to be a sentiment going around that the NBA's symbolic, necessary disposal of Clippers owner Donald Sterling has wrapped up this sordid, uncomfortable affair.

I hate to pour cold water on that, but this mess is far from over.

There were reports that the Clippers were prepared to boycott if they were unsatisfied with the league's response to Donald Sterling's racist remarks. The players got what they wanted when NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling from the league (and all Clippers activities) for life, but boycotting is an option the players just might want to keep in their back pocket.

The threat of that boycott undoubtedly factored into Silver's decision to ban Sterling for life. On top of his general disgust with what Sterling said, I'm sure that threat was part of the reason Silver immediately made it clear that the league would push Sterling to sell the team he has mostly mismanaged since buying it in 1981.

But what if Silver promised something he will be unable to deliver?

Then what?

Like it or not, Sterling has some options. It's anticipated that he will sue for his right to retain ownership, if not out of pure spite, but for financial reasons. As pointed out in this Sports Illustrated piece, a sale could leave Sterling on the hook for millions in taxes. And I don't mean just a million or two, but the type of money that would cover Miguel Cabrera's entire contract.

Sterling is 80 years old and his thoughts on race didn't magically pop into his narrow mind at the time of the now infamous recordings. He's been named in several lawsuits that have accused him of age and race discrimination, sexual harassment and intimidation.

It's been suggested that the reason former commissioner David Stern never went after Sterling before is because Sterling, a lawyer by trade, apparently loves litigation as much as he loves denigrating people of color and women.

A man who is seemingly that stubborn isn't likely to let the NBA snatch his team.

So the NBA better prepare for a fight. A long one. And the Clippers' players -- along with players from other teams who protested Sterling by wearing their warm-up jerseys inside-out and applauded Silver's punishment -- need to ask themselves if they're capable of sustained anger.

What are the players and coach Doc Rivers prepared to do if Sterling won't sell -- if he's the owner of the team at the beginning of next season?

Responding in the moment was easy, but the players and Rivers shouldn't lose sight of the fact that they still possess a mighty hammer.

If Donald Sterling won't leave the NBA the easy way, there's nothing wrong with making his stay as painful as possible. For most of Sterling's tenure, the Clippers were considered an NBA wasteland. They can be turned into that again.

That's why a possible boycott should still be on the table. The players also should be prepared to demand trades. Free agents shouldn't even consider going there. Or maybe the NBA can speed this process along by making all the current players free agents, as suggested by Rockets owner Leslie Alexander.

"I told Adam I don't think he can be removed because the constitution (of the NBA) only allows him to be removed except for gambling," Alexander told the Houston Chronicle before the announcement of Sterling's punishment. "I'm not sure that legally can be done. But if he loses his players, nobody is going to want to go there. He'll only be able to get a player that is worth $2 million and will play for $12 (million.) And who is going to want to coach there?

"If you're a player in the NBA you don't want to play for somebody like that. If you worked for a company, you would walk away and say, 'I'm gone." I think the players should have that right."

I realize this situation isn't the players' doing, nor is it the fault of long-suffering Clippers fans. And one of the frustrating side effects of racial issues is that those subjected to and victimized by racism become burdened with providing the solutions.

The players didn't start the fight, but it's now theirs to finish.

Are they willing to see it through to the end?

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