Reflections on the Donald Sterling Show – A Sterling Checkmate

The following is from Meerae Park.  Meerae is a business major at the University of California, Irvine and founder of the UCI Sports Analysis Collective.  In his free time, he enjoys statistical consulting, sports discussion, and Kobe hating.He specializes on all things money within the NBA.  You can reach him

It appears all is well in Los Angeles. The tentative victory of Shelly Sterling foreshadows the end of a disastrous ownership term.

Mr. Sterling was pushed out by several forces: the general public, the league, and the players & coaches. However, this all formed one large public thrashing. Whether it was on your computer or at the watercooler – you probably joined in too.

There’s enough media covering what he did. Instead of covering the same information now, we will individually examine how these forces trapped Mr. Sterling.

The general public during this fiasco resembled a modern day witch hunt – but instead of witches, we were hunting a racist. But why now? It was already public knowledge that Sterling was a racist – countless articles go back to 1983. Well, there are two main reasons. It was on tape and it was his first incident in a new era of media, social media. Driven by the public, the narrative became us vs. him, us vs. racism – the hunt was on.

When viewing it in this context, you realize that the league intervened because it had to. The pressure was on and damage control was necessary. Under the public eye, anything less than expulsion would have been unacceptable. Along this vein, the NBA merely followed social expectations through its actions. This makes one wonder what it would have done had the news flown under the radar.

If the beef had really been about racism, the league would have intervened years ago when Mr. Sterling was the perpetrator in racially charged incidents with Clippers staff. To their defense, bad press is never good and a courtroom circus would have exhausted old man Stern. In an optimistic alternative, the league was just waiting for a perfect storm to throw Mr. Sterling overboard.

We may never know what the league would have done, but we do know that this expulsion was long overdue and that bad habits come from a faulty past.

An untouched topic has been the considerable role of the players. Sure, you may have heard of the threat of player boycotts. However, this fell in the background during the witch hunt.

But, what if the players went missing in this scenario? We would lose the juice of the conflict and Mr. Sterling would just be one of many racists in our nation. This should remind us that this victory belongs most to the players.

Before 1954, the NBA didn’t have a player’s union. Today, the NBPA is a force. Despite “losing” a revenue battle in the most recent lockout, the NBPA can celebrate a different type of victory in regards to these recent events – an ethical victory.

The players sealed Mr. Sterling’s fate when they told the league that there is no room for racism in the NBA. By threatening to take hostage of a franchise, the players of the Clippers sent a message to owners – people come to watch players, not billionaires. The owners may own the franchises and revenue, but they are still under a sensitive public lens and player opinion – unless they can hide their dirty secrets.

The league now should realize that better controls should exist to address brand hazards. This situation could have been much worse for the NBA considering the only people asking questions are in the comments section of ESPN articles.

It started with a recording and ended with a sale. Looking at the pieces, it’s not a surprise it has turned out the way it has. Checkmate.




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