Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Not So Sterling Reputation

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling bought his team for $13 million in the early 1980s.  Until now, he and his views have moved under the radar.  Now the spotlight shines on him, his words, his actions, and his team.  Will he survive as owner?  He will not, but his handling of his franchise should have brought such attention long ago.

First, Sterling has consistently been a bad franchise owner.  He is the old crotchety male version of the Cleveland Indians owner from Major League, except that his team is in the destination city.  Two generations of players endured the Clippers cheapness, even to the point of falsifying statistics to get out of incentives bonuses. In the 1990s, they put off replacing a fired coach as long as possible.  A Sports Illustrated writer dropped this memorable line "Going without a head coach did not make the Clippers any worse."  Sterling figured out that he could turn a profit by paying as little as possible for players, personnel, and any other amenities.

When the Cincinnati Bengals approached this level of miserliness, the NFL threatened to seize control of its operations.

Of course Sterling has also been described as a "slumlord" by multiple outlets.  Stands to reason, considering how he handled the Clippers.

Sterling has a long rap sheet of making outlandish comments about any number of people or groups.  The worst may be, allegedly, wanting a white southern coach to mentor poor black men, like a "plantation."

He did manage to manipulate the perception game, contributing thousands of dollars to minority groups including the NAACP.  Strangely enough, the century old civil rights group had stood poised to give him a lifetime achievement award.  What for outside of contributions, few seem to know.

Now, Sterling has been recorded in a private conversation with his girlfriend (yes, he is married) berating her for bringing black people to "his games" and taking selfies with such degenerates as Magic Johnson.  This will be a tipping point for a league long frustrated with his antics.

The NBA has a precedent they can follow, which is Major League Baseball handled the fallout from the misdeeds of former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott.

Schott owned the Reds from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s.  Publicly, fans loved the eccentric widow of a car dealership mogul.  She always brought her beloved dog Schottzie to the ballpark, said crazy things, and basically seemed harmless. Ticket and concessions prices for Reds fans remained low comparable to most other franchises at the time. Under her tenure of ownership, the Reds usually remained competitive and even won a World Series.

Behind the scenes, many knew tragedy was coming.  Former commissioner Fay Vincent tried to caution Schott about her drinking problems.  Eventually in vino veritas won out.  Schott sank herself by relating what she thought to be truths, such as how Hitler was not so bad before he started killing people, as well as other unpalatable opinions about minorities and a number of other issues. Keeping a swastika armband in her office did not help either.

Baseball suspended Schott a total of three times before she gave way and sold most of her ownership stake.

Donald Sterling's sins of commission in revealing his ugly opinions of blacks (and his mild mannered voice inflections on tape reveal these to be strongly held beliefs more so than an angry outburst would) will likely lead to s suspension later today.  But the NBA should not have waited until this point to come down hard on Sterling.  This owner cheated his players by falsifying their stats.  He ripped off fans by not investing even adequately in trying to win, banking that he could profit off of media agreements and ticket sales more even when winning less than 20 percent of games per year.

What he said, what he feels disqualify him to represent the league as a fully functioning owner.  What he did to the fans and men who played for him required sanction long ago.

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