A lot of casual NBA fans didn’t even know the name of Donald Sterling a couple of months ago, and yet his very public display of bigotry has made everyone and their grandmother learn the name of the man who’s been called “the worst owner in sports” for many years now. Such is the power that race issues still have in America.
Sterling was already infamous for his antics as an unscrupulous landlord, sexually harassing ladies, heckling his own point guards during games and even being accused of racism by his Hall of Fame former employees; but it took the leaking of these tapes to get the league to finally take action against Sterling.
Adam Silver, just a few months after taking over as league commissioner, had his first real test when everyone was claiming for justice on the Sterling situation. People were asking for extreme measures, and that’s what Silver gave them. He fined him the maximum US$2.5m, he banned him for life, and he’s forcing him to sell the team to someone who, you know, doesn’t inspire hate in everyone’s hearts.
And after a few smoke screens and reported, seemingly ridiculous offers by the Sterlings, it turns out Steve Ballmer, the recently-retired former chief executive of Microsoft, is forking US$2bn to buy the Clippers.
The price tag turned more than a few heads, especially considering the urgency all parts had to sell, and the fact that just a few months ago Forbes had estimated its value at US$575m, less than 30% of what Ballmer is paying.
So why, a lot of people wonder, would Ballmer make such an unprecedented bid on a team that’s been the NBA’s laughing stock for decades?
Well, first of all, they currently have a very good team that can contend for a title right away, anchored by their two extremely profitable superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. They have an excellent coach in Doc Rivers, solid role players and most importantly, they play in one of the two biggest markets in the United States.
In an era when TV contracts can also be worth billions – including their Staples Center co-tenants and the also L.A. based Dodgers – the Clippers figure to make a splash in the next few years, especially with a new ridiculously wealthy ownership and the promise of a drastic culture change.
Having said all that, for all the public shaming, severe punishment and lifetime ban, there are still two billion reasons Donald Sterling may have come out of this relatively victorious. Sure, he must have gone through some real emotional distress about this whole issue, but when you’re a delusional old billionaire, I’m guessing you might be able to overcome things like this. And there’s no question the urgency of the situation raised the price on a team no one would have paid much for before Paul was traded to Los Angeles.
So, can we just call it the cost of doing business? Sterling’s out and with him the remnants of a horrible franchise.