N.B.A.’s Move Is Not Little, but It’s Late

Sam Dolnick, the deputy sports editor, on what Donald Sterling’s ban means for the Los Angeles Clippers and the new N.B.A commissioner.

After the conga line of support spawned by N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver’s banishment of Donald Sterling on Tuesday — a carnival led by validated players, relieved owners and a Los Angeles Clippers staff that acted as if it had just been released from Guantánamo — there ensued a natural pause. Because in celebrating the first move to excise Sterling from the N.B.A. and pry the Clippers from his grubby hands, the next thought had to be why it had not been done sooner.

Because the recording that captured Sterling in full racist flower surprised exactly no one who had read more than three sentences about him since 1981. Because Sterling had done horrible, racist things that hurt people in his tenure as Clippers owner; it was not only that he released the contents of his mind for all to despise. But he was not punished for those things — he was punished Tuesday for being revealed as the man he has always been.

Understandably, this made no sense to a lot of people.

Perhaps the most eloquent of those was ESPN.com’s Jason Whitlock, who marveled at the mob mentality that is now driving Sterling from his perch, while reminding everyone it does nothing to address the underlying culture of racism that created Sterling and his partners in discrimination. “Sterling’s peers have always protected him ... until he had the audacity and stupidity to be caught on tape explaining the culture they maintain,” Whitlock writes. Meanwhile, Dave D’Alessandro of The Star-Ledger issues a timely reminder of just what an unsavory group Sterling’s peers are, the N.B.A. owners now lining up to vote Sterling off their gilded island. These were the people who tolerated Sterling just fine until they had an excuse not to, writes Michael Rosenberg on SI.com.

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Credit...David Mcnew/Reuters

Perhaps the first words of real wisdom, though, had come from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has long since traded in his Hall of Fame basketball career for one as a social observer, and who wrote on Time.com that he stood in amazement at the reaction to Sterling’s recorded babbling. To Abdul-Jabbar, the outrage should be why everyone wasn’t outraged long ago, when a court proceeding outed Sterling as a racist in multiple housing discrimination cases or during age and race discrimination complaints by former Clippers employees.

In fact, though, someone was outraged during one of those cases in 2006, and at the time, ESPN.com’s Bomani Jones railed at how little attention the housing discrimination suit was getting. On Tuesday, Jones got his, “I told you so,” moment on ESPN’s “Dan Le Batard Show.”

That doesn’t mean Silver didn’t deserve many of the plaudits coming his way for his moment at center stage. What he said was bold and he was believable in his delivery. He did have the automatic advantage of not being David Stern, allowing everyone to watch a league news conference without the usual layer of smugness and arrogance for the first time in forever. And the fact that Stern was widely acknowledged as Sterling’s chief enabler for so many years, as Dan Wetzel writes on Yahoo.com, made his absence all the better.

Silver at least gets the distinction of doing what no one else was willing to do for all these years, J. A. Adande writes on ESPN.com, and how he did it made it feel like justice was being done, Will Leitch writes on Sports on Earth, even if we all know it really wasn’t.

What Silver did was let the story move forward, to the playoff game between the Clippers and the Warriors Tuesday night that most likely would not have happened without Silver throwing the book at Sterling and promising the bookshelves would come next, as Lee Jenkins writes on SI.com. And now we all move on to just how Silver goes about prying a franchise away from Sterling, the next drama that will overshadow the one so many ignored for so many years.

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