Does the "NBA Cares?"
Sterling Should "Leave the Right Way!"
Silver Shoud "Commish the Right Way!"
Yes, Donald Sterling is a reprehensible human being. Yes, Donald Sterling has no business owning or being involved with the Los Angeles Clippers.
But, No, Donald Sterling should not be forced to sell the team. And, No, a forced sale of the team is not in the best interest of basketball fans and everyday citizens of the City of Los Angeles. And, No, Shelly Sterling should never sit courtside again.
So how does one reconcile these seemingly contradictory positions?
The NBA's efforts to force Sterling to sell will drive the purchase price to stratospheric levels and any new ownership group and its financial backers will require a frothy regional sports cable deal which will make the cost of viewing games on television or attending in person ridiculously high.
The irony of the situation is that, yes Magic Johnson as a top one-percenter will be able to afford to attend the games and watch on television, but lower-income families, including blacks, will have less access than ever before to watch the Clippers.
Sterling has always been bad for business for the NBA. Now he is just out right toxic. But the response of the day is one cloaked in social inequality and greed, using concern over racism and equality as the justification for change.
In addition, the NBA by acting unilaterally in a dictatorial fashion using surreptitiously, and possibly illegal, recorded conversations by an alleged extortionist with a criminal history as its moral justification is sending and reinforcing a damaging message to the world. Sports matter to America's image, more so than ever since the illegal invasion of Iraq and the NSA wire-tapping fiasco. Like it or not, the NBA's actions vis-à-vis Sterling will impact America's brand. Given the stadium fiascos and public protests, what comes to mind when you say "Brazil 2014 World Cup"?
Isn't a diplomatic solution based on the ideals of sport, democracy, public-private partnership and civic participation worth exploring for the Sterling ordeal?
As America's Game, shouldn't' the NBA do better than handing the team to Oprah Winfrey?
David Stern's most celebrated accomplishment was the 1992 Dream Team's appearance in Barcelona. This overwhelmingly talented and charismatic team represented the democratic ideals of the USA: diversity, talent, meritocracy, sportsmanship and an outright kick-your ass with a smile, don't you wish you were like us superiority. The rest of the world was gladly cheering on the USA.
Now the leadership of the NBA is tempted to use Soviet style justification for the appropriation of private property based on "illegal thoughts." In the USA, you have a right to your beliefs and to free speech. And only the government can illegally record conversations. What will Adam Silver's international legacy be? How smart is he? Will he commish "the right way"?
As basketball lovers and Americans, should we entrust America's Game to the anti-gay Orlando Magic owner or the Chesapeake Energy frackers who own the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Russian oligarch owning the Brooklyn Nets?
Or should we entrust it to say, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Yes, the big-fella! "Swing Left... Shoot Right... GOOD." (We miss you Chick Hearn).
The Right Path and the Right Way -- "US" in Trust
The appropriate course of action is for Sterling and the NBA to reach a settlement whereby Sterling agrees to put the team in the hands of a to-be-formed public trust. Think of the Green Bay Packers, but with a profit-limited motivation and a more altruistic mission. And, yes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar should be in charge.
This Trust's mandate would be to:
- Increase access and viewership of Clippers (or whatever name gets changed too) across all economic strata for the citizens of Los Angeles
- Utilize its position in the community to engender social change and communicate progressive civic-minded ideals, values and practices.
- Provide real world on the job sports management training to young and racially diverse college-educated students born and raised in the City of Los Angeles.
- Operate and conduct business in a civic-minded fashion similar in style and substance to "playing basketball the right way".
- Prevent Shelly Sterling, or any Sterling family member, from sitting courtside until they have earned that right through community service.
How Does It Work?
The Trust would be required to sell Clippers broadcast rights at a break-even cost to a local over the air TV station. The TV Station with the right rights would be required to allocate a substantial percentage of advertising and promotional airtime to non-profits. Fair housing, income inequality, preventive medicine, and educational initiatives would be the messages every day. In addition, the Clippers should forgo a sizeable portion of team sponsorship revenue, instead working with non- profits so their messages are emblazoned courtside and in the arena.
This Public Trust would remain in control for a period of time equal to the estimated actuarial death of Shelly Sterling. If she is, say, 65 today and the average life span for a California woman of her means is 83, then the term of the deal is for 18 years. Upon that date, the Sterling family trust could then put the team for sale on the open market.
In the event there were any financial shortfalls, the team could borrow additional funds and the lenders would receive downside protection given the eventual sale of the team at the actuarial expiration date.
What About the Players? Would They Want to Play for Such a Team?
The players and coaches, Doc Rivers included, must have known of Sterling's insidious past but took his money anyway. His behavior is no surprise. Perhaps a change in culture to be a team "of the people, for the people" would shed the light on the players' ideals and principles and make the Clippers the team of choice for socially concerned (not social media concerned) athletes. Who wouldn't want to play for what would become, effectively, the national team of the City of Los Angeles. So long as the principles of the current salary cap remain in play, the franchise would have more than enough in revenue to field a competitive team. The adoration, pride and civic energy behind such a team could be magical. The '77 Blazers of Portland... the Knicks of New York of the early '70s... the (insert new team name) of Los Angeles of the 2020s...
Shelly Sterling -- What is Her Role? Can She Redeem the Sterling Name?
Shelly can be involved in working with the non-profits in one capacity or another. She could review applications, or perform compliance work related to confirming the legitimacy of participating non-profits. And, if she wants to go to game, she is welcome to, so long as she sits in the 300s (the upper level) at Staples. If things go well, in Year 5 the team can put whether or not she can sit courtside up for a vote by the fans.
You've got all the money in the world. But, who cares anymore!
"Leave the right way!"
TO ADAM SILVER:
"Commish The Right Way"
"Take us the right way"