Donald Sterling is the longest-tenured owner in the NBA, holding that role with the Los Angeles Clippers for 33 years. Normally, that would be a badge of honor -- think of something like the Hunt family and the Kansas City Chiefs -- but in seemingly every major context, it's been a disaster for the Clippers.
In those 33 years, the Clippers have made the playoffs seven times -- although three of those seven are the past three seasons, including this one -- and lost 50 or more games 22 times. They have won 20 playoff games -- not series, but games (series wins: two) -- and just for the sake of comparison, their co-tenants at Staples Center (the Lakers) have won nine championships in the same span. (Series wins? 63.) On court, then, the Clippers haven't been stunning.
Off the court, their owner's issues are fairly well-documented: see here, here, here and here. One of the rare longer-form profiles of Sterling was captured in ESPN The Magazine by Peter Keating in 2009. That piece opens with some of the most damning allegations before the current swarm arrived:
For more than two years, Sterling has been staring down federal civil rights charges related to his real estate holdings and rental practices. According to the Justice Department, Sterling, his wife and three of his companies have engaged in discrimination, principally by refusing to rent to African-Americans. In February, Elgin Baylor, the Clippers GM from 1986 to 2008, filed an age and racial discrimination suit against his old boss alleging, among other things, that Sterling repeatedly expressed a desire to field a team of "poor black boys from the South ... playing for a white coach." Sterling's attorneys have denied the accusations. And even as these controversies swirl around him, Sterling is here tonight to receive a lifetime achievement award from the local chapter of the NAACP.
Much of Sterling's checkered history deals with race, as in refusing to rent to African-Americans, the issues with Elgin Baylor, the alleged "poor black boys" comment and the current situation, revolving primarily around audio in which he exhorted his girlfriend not to bring black people to games or take pictures with African-Americans (i.e., Magic Johnson) on platforms such as Instagram.
While much of the context around Sterling has undoubtedly been racial, he's actually had comments and run-ins of a sexist/misogynistic nature as well. There's this, from Think Progress:
While demanding that his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, not bring black people to his games, Sterling makes it clear that he doesn't care if she "sleeps with them" or "f---s him" (referring to Magic Johnson). He demeans her directly, calling her "stupid" and repeatedly telling her she doesn't understand what he's saying. He refers to her as a "born fighter" -- "all you ever want to do is fight" -- while telling her that they should end their relationship because he needs "a girl that will do what I want." He wants her to conform to what it is he thinks she should be, a "delicate white or delicate Latina girl" (she's biracial) because she doesn't know "what people think" of her. At no point is it evident that Sterling views Stiviano as anything else but his temporary trophy, his property, a woman who should conform to what he wants whether than who she is. He's a bully and a misogynist.
And then there's this, from The Week:
* A former employee sued Sterling for sexual harassment, alleging that he ordered her to find him masseuses who "will, you know, let me put it in or who [will] suck on it."
* He hired "hostesses" to work parties, one of whom called it the most "demoralizing, dehumanizing experience of my life," and claimed she was asked to provide semi-nude photos.
* Sterling's own testimony from a lawsuit with a former mistress, to whom he paid $500 every time she "provided sex" for him: "When you pay a woman for sex, you are not together with her ... You're paying her for a few moments to use her body for sex. Is it clear?"
*From the same testimony: "I wouldn't have a child and certainly not with that piece of trash. Come on. This girl is the lowest form."
*And again, in the same testimony: "Every secretary is honey. I'm a flowery man. If you're having sex with a woman you're paying for, you always call her honey because you can't remember her name."
Sterling was banned for life and given a $2.5 million fine by NBA commissioner Adam Silver. The praise for Silver was nearly universal in terms of the leadership he showed and the relative decisiveness of the sequence of events (less than 96 hours, all told, which at major organizational levels like the NBA is nothing short of a miracle).
There is the possibility of future litigation from Sterling's legal team. One of the core issues is Silver's contention that he has the votes (from the NBA board of governors) to oust Sterling as an owner. Silver probably does, but the process of ousting an owner would involve lots of discussion around Article 13 of the NBA bylaws. Article 13 is almost exclusively designed as a remedy for financial problems. The Clippers have lost sponsors in the past few days -- Mercedes-Benz and CarMax got out altogether, and companies like Diageo and State Farm are suspending their partnerships -- but the team can't be argued to be in financial trouble, in part because of Sterling's reported $1.9 billion net worth.
Additionally, Article 13 contains no "morals clause" -- i.e., the ability to oust an owner on moral grounds -- and while Sterling has widely been shown to be a misogynist and racist, there isn't explicit evidence that the Clippers are run in such a way on a day-to-day basis.
Finally, some owners -- often billionaires themselves with interests to protect -- may view the ousting of another owner, however reprehensible the actions that initiated the process, to be a "slippery slope" (Mark Cuban's words) regarding future events off this precedent. In sum? It will be a long, costly legal fight. But during it all, Sterling will be on the outside looking in as it regards the NBA.
Interestingly, there's also a $1.8 million lawsuit filed by Sterling's wife against Sterling's girlfriend -- the one linked to the release of the initial audio files -- and it goes fairly deep into the complexities of the Sterling marriage:
Vanessa Stiviano's lawyer set out a strident defense after Rochelle Sterling sued her for embezzling $1.8m -- the total gifts and cash Sterling, 80, is said to have given his 31-year-old lover -- including a condo, a Ferrari, two Bentleys and a Range Rover.
He said: 'This is an action brought by a very angry wife whose husband is a highly public figure and who is well known to the 'keeping women' other than his wife and who has done so for very many years with a big toothy grin brandishing his sexual prowess in the faces of the Paparazzi and caring less what anyone else thought, the least of which, his own wife'.
The papers, in which Rochelle claims Stiviano has been having sex with Sterling since 2010, went on: 'Donald Sterling has flaunted that grotesque lifestyle in front of and in his wife's face for nearly their entire marriage of 50 years.'
The person least fooled and least affected and least "robbed of her due" is Rochelle Sterling.
'At minimum, she has been complicit for over 50 years and, here, particularly, has "looked the other way" if not put hands over her mouth, covered her eyes and attempted to cover her ears. Further, this is not the "first rodeo" as the expression goes.'
Stiviano's lawyer, Mac E Nehoray continued: 'It is clear from past conduct, that Mrs Sterling has at a minimum, either "enabled" Donald Sterling to do, over and over again what he does, or that she approved of the varied and many gifts as described in the complaint.
'The "relationship" (whatever it may have been or not been) between Donald Sterling and V Stiviano was open, notorious, obvious and long standing.'
Elsewhere in the papers, he said: 'Instead of chastising her philandering husband, let alone curtailing his carousing, Mrs Sterling seeks to punish Stiviano who has done nothing wrong.'
Racism and sexism aren't competitors -- both are terrible things -- but there is a certain justice to Sterling finally being humbled by his connection to a young, biracial woman. It's almost as if his indulgences smashed headfirst into his supposed belief structure, and the result was his professional demise. Regardless of how you view this whole situation, it should be viewed as a victory for both women and minorities everywhere.