Seven months before defrocked and disgraced LA Clippers' owner Donald Sterling launched his haywire racist rant, Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, published his annual diversity report for 2013 on the NBA, NFL and MLB. He was effusive in praising the NBA as being the run-away model for diversity in the hiring of minorities and women. The figures on the league's diversity in hiring more than bore out his praise.
In 2013, nearly 80 percent of the players were African-Americans. There were more head coaches of color (53 percent) than white head coaches. The overwhelming majority of these coaches were African-American. They comprised 47 percent of all NBA coaches. The NBA also got an A-plus rating on the top heavy number of minorities and women in administrative and management positions.
But there was a cloud in the NBA's rosy diversity picture. This was summed up in a follow-up report on pro sports ownership diversity, "Three Leagues, 92 teams and only one black principal owner." I added the "only" for emphasis. The one black owner is NBA legend Michael Jordan, the principal owner of the Carolina Bobcats.
The big question then in the aftermath of the Sterling debacle is will that number double by one, if and more likely when the Clippers are eventually sold? Sterling is playing hardball and says he won't sell. But that will change. The NBA owners' advisory and finance committee got the ball rolling on dumping Sterling as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers when they had a conference call meeting two days after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver demanded that Sterling go. The NBA owners will almost certainly make his wish unanimous. They'll get a boost for giving Sterling the boot if he loses marquee players, a marquee coach, and not one of the gaggle of quality free agents that come on the market give the Clippers the time of day as long as Sterling's name is on the team's ownership papers. Most importantly, the Clippers advertisers that sprinted from him like the plague will keep a cautious watch on developments with Sterling's continued ownership. This will be the point where the NBA can actually match its much touted claim that it wants more minority owners.
In this case, the ownership should be whole or in part African-American. It's more than just a matter of satisfying the lofty preachment about diversity. It's more than deserved poetic justice payback for sport's biggest, and nastiest open bigot. It's more than trying to align the Clippers with another NBA legend, Magic Johnson.
It's about business. Sterling parlayed his $12 billion Clipper purchase in 1981 to dozens times worth more than that in value. Each year he carted off tens of millions in net revenue from sponsors, advertisers and TV broadcast rights. This figure will soar even higher when the NBA inks an even more lucrative TV deal in the coming months. The Clippers are a cash cow and will potentially be an even bigger one in the years to come. An African-American owner, or ownership group, of a team in the nation's second major media and sports market in the nation will be tantamount to an economic emancipation for black sports ownership. It would serve as a business role model for this and coming generations of aspiring black entrepreneurs.
There's much talk that even with a fire sale, the price will be out of the reach of any prospective black buyer. That ignores how many sports teams are bought and sold by individuals that aren't multi billionaires. The NBA is a good example of that. Less than half the owners in the NBA are billionaires. The others bought teams in partnership with a pool or pools of investors. In most cases, the value of the teams they bought grew substantially over time. The other factor in a sports team sale is not solely the market value or profitability of a particular franchise. There are also the negative factors that can damp down the final sale price of a team. Those factors include debt which can introduce major limitations on a deal, a negative image, its relationship with advertisers and sponsors, and most importantly the ability to turn the franchise into a consistently winning franchise.
The PR value that African-American ownership of the Clippers or any other pro team would have would be huge. This goes beyond just race, or in the case of the Clippers having the satisfaction of having an African-American replace a bigot and a pariah. Professional team ownership is a clubby, comfortable, tight-knit confraternity. As one professional sport's team financial broker put it, buying a team is not just the purchase of a team but its buying a stake in an entire league.
An African-American owner or ownership of the Clippers would do that and much more. It would help expunge the NBA's Sterling embarrassment.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.
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