Wednesday, April 30, 2014

NBA Commits Foul on Capitalism, Free Speech

NBA Commits Foul on Capitalism, Free Speech
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
April 30, 2014

The NBA and its new commissioner, Adam Silver, have dealt capitalism and free speech a black eye with the lifetime ban imposed upon Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.

In addition to the lifetime ban, Sterling was also saddled with a fine of $2.5 million, the maximum allowable as per the NBA Constitution, and Silver indicated he would push to force the sale of the Clippers. The fine is negligible – roughly equivalent to $50 for Sterling, worth over $1.9 billion. The lifetime ban means Sterling can have no contact with players, or anyone else affiliated with the team, he may not attend games, play any role in transactions or drafting rookies, or anything else the NBA deems “contact.”

The harshness for which Sterling is being penalized comes on the heels of audio tape released just several days prior to Silver’s declaration with Sterling carrying on in a racist screed – telling his girlfriend/mistress not to attend “his” games with blacks and not to post photographs of herself with blacks on social media. Sterling further verbally eviscerated blacks in ways that might make a Klansman blush right through his hood.

But knowledge of Sterling’s unsavory opinions has been common knowledge for years, which begs the question, why now? Why has the world exploded in outrage now? Has Sterling changed his stripes since his 2009 housing discrimination case that cost him $2.7 million? (Yet another drop in the bucket to Sterling.) This is demonstrative of the NBA’s hypocrisy for not attempting to rid itself of Sterling, the league’s longest tenured owner, years ago.

Just as big a piece of hypocrisy is the NAACP, set to honor Sterling for the second time, with a lifetime achievement award but has since rescinded the honor. Yet, the civil rights organization continues marching forward with its plans to honor Al Sharpton, a racist in his own right, originally on the same dance card with Sterling.

The brash owner of the Clippers may be despicable for his views and opinions, but the First Amendment to the United States Constitution gives Sterling the right to be such a rapscallion. (

What is really daunting and quite frankly more than just a bit frightening, is that Sterling’s words were uttered within the confines and supposed privacy of his own home. Is the sanctity of a person’s home as his castle a faded memory for the dustbin of history? Is a person not free to say as he wishes behind closed doors?

There has been some debate regarding the procurement of the recordings. Did Sterling ask his girlfriend/mistress to record him because he claimed he was becoming forgetful? Did she do so under her own volition, thus, in California, making those recordings illegal? That may seem to be less than a minor point to those seeking Sterling’s head on a stick, as well as to those wanting to separate Sterling from his personal property – the Clippers basketball team.

Therein lies just part of the problem. Does anyone with any public standing now need to couch every utterance in a politically correct manner for fear of loss of livelihood? And what will be next, after racist rants? Will the ethnic jokes told at home cause people to lose jobs, income, and future employment? What about remarks about a person’s sexuality or gender? Are people only permitted to have opinions approved by the so-called tolerance cabal in the United States?

Why is acceptable for NBA players to use language worse than that of Sterling without castigation or forced retribution? After all, black ballplayers toss around the word “nigger,” akin to the word hello. NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took exception to these pronouncements. “I think black Americans should avoid using that word,” said Jabbar. He also said the current generation of players needs to be reminded what things were like during the Civil Rights Movement and challenges blacks endured.

And as for the potential loss of his team, Sterling should fight this as far as he can take it – he certainly has the resources, and he should do so if for no other reason, than principle. For while the NBA owners, according to its constitution, can force Sterling to sell the Clippers, with a three-fourths vote, the United States Constitution supersedes an NBA or corporate constitution.

How is it that Sterling can be stripped of his legally owned property simply for having privately uttered his opinion? Granted it is a distasteful and unacceptable opinion, but having distasteful and unacceptable opinions is not against the law.

With Sterling’s Clippers in the playoffs, an anomaly for this team, their value is sure to continue to rise. Currently worth an estimated more than $550 million, Sterling could reap a huge profit, considering he has owned the team since 1981. But money is not the issue with Sterling at this point; after all, the octogenarian has just become a pariah in his own league – persona non grata and if he chooses, he can make life difficult for the other owners and the image of the league as a whole just by dragging the NBA through the court system.

Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban, while supporting the decision by Silver and the NBA, also expressed concern for a potential slippery slope. He questioned the length to which the league could go under any circumstance, and not just meting out the punishment for Sterling’s assumed offenses, but denying people their rights or attempts to commandeer their property.

This situation could have been self-correcting by letting the free market speak for itself, and not some imposed mandate. With Sterling still atop the Clippers’ corporate chart, advertisers would continue to abandon ship, as has been the case over the past four days. Fans would boycott the team, nary a ticket would be sold, and revenue would evaporate where food, beverage, and merchandise would have filled the coffers. Current players would demand trades, but who would want to play for the Clippers? How many rookies could be lured to Los Angeles and how productive could an all-rookie team be?

All or any combination of those variables would probably cause Sterling to sell the team under his own volition, and not because it is demanded of him. The vox populi would have spoken loud and clear, and short of driving the value of the team below the San Andreas Fault, Sterling would sell the remaining pieces for scrap.

Until the free market weighs in, Sterling is a victim, albeit one for whom one should not feel sorry, but one entitled to the same rights as every other American citizen. If Sterling’s livelihood be taken away for offering up his private thoughts at home, how far away from the thought police can this so-called civilization be?

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.

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