Sterlings miss game and point

Donald and Shelly Sterling are showing that they don’t care about the Los Angeles Clippers, they care about owning the Los Angeles Clippers.

They want the status that comes with being in that select circle of professional sports owners, especially now that there’s the bonus of the Clippers being legitimate contenders. But at this point they’re distracting from the Clippers’ playoff push, not contributing to it. If the Sterlings cared about the best interests of the team, they wouldn’t have spent Sunday sitting down for interviews on the same day the players faced their biggest test of the season to date.

So even while the Clippers were embarking on their dramatic fourth-quarter comeback against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Twitter was ablaze with talk of the Sterlings.

Donald Sterling, still banned by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, invited CNN’s Anderson Cooper to his home and told him that he isn’t a racist while wondering, “Am I entitled to one mistake?”

Shelly Sterling, who was at Game 3, was away from Game 4 while telling ABC’s Barbara Walters that she’ll divorce Donald and fight to keep her ownership stake in the team.

If they cared about the team’s success, they’d both be silent right now. They’d let the players focus on the most important time of the season, they wouldn’t draw attention from where it should be. They’d take a lesson from Mark Cuban, the league’s most outspoken owner, who strapped a metaphorical muzzle on his mouth during the 2011 playoffs until his Dallas Mavericks had their hands on the Larry O’Brien trophy.

What the Sterlings don’t realize is that the more they speak out about their rights to own the team, the more they help the NBA’s case to take it away from them.

The league can’t oust an owner based on his personal views. But it can act based on the public reaction to those views if they are found to “affect the Association or its members adversely.” The league could cite the dropped and suspended sponsorships from the Clippers’ corporate partners as evidence of adverse effects. They could say that prompting negative reactions from LeBron James at a time he should be talking up the playoffs is a step backward.

While a lawyer for Shelly Sterling said that “California law and the United States Constitution trump any such interpretation,” they fail to realize that the NBA tramples on constitutional rights all the time. The NBA tells players what to wear, it fines them for what they say on camera and on Twitter. It has the means to do so because the players acknowledge those powers in their contracts.

The same applies to owners, but the Sterlings are so used to their money getting them what they want that they don’t want to accept this. The lawyers I’ve consulted on this issue say it comes down to members of a club deciding who they want in or out of their club, and the only way that becomes a matter for the courts is if there’s proven to be discrimination based on race, gender, religion, etc. And the Sterlings would know about the difficulty of proving discrimination in court. They’ve counted on it in the past.

I suppose the Sterlings could use the “no such thing as bad publicity” argument, and claim that without them the Clippers wouldn’t be leading newscasts on every network imaginable, or working their way into presidential news conferences.

They could even say that their team is helping the NBA right now, bringing added interest to a team playing in the nation’s No. 2 television market. But that only applies as long as the Clippers still participate in the playoffs.

What the Sterlings don’t realize is that the team’s postseason success is in spite of them, not because of them.