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David Stern Explains Why He Didn’t Deal With Donald Sterling During His Tenure

Last Friday, former NBA commissioner David Stern was officially inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. In an interview yesterday, he was asked why Donald Sterling remained owner of the Clippers during his entire tenure.

In an interview with David Aldridge of NBA.com, Stern explained why Sterling was never dealt with:

Me: Donald Sterling was —
DS: Careful. I have a cane.

Me: He was there, on your watch, for a while. Why couldn’t something have been done about him earlier?
DS: You know, that’s an interesting question from some quarters, when the NBA has a history of allowing the judicial process to take its own course. And we’ve become particularly sensitized to that, especially with respect to our players. And so there was never a final determination of that kind with respect to Donald.

Me: You couldn’t do anything?
DS: That’s not the way we operate.

Me: Because, legally, he had been convicted of no crime?
DS: That’s not how we operate.

Me: Was he buzzing in the back of your head all those years?
DS: You know, over the years, we were working on so many different — you mean, when we were working with Magic Johnson and HIV, or dealing with Latrell Sprewell and the thing with his coach? We were dealing with Ron Artest going into the stands, we were dealing with [Tim] Donaghy, we were dealing with Gilbert Arenas. We were dealing with subsequent lockouts. We managed to keep very, very busy — like, Holy Moses, what’s up today? What’s on the table? And so, for us, there was a lot to do.

It’s true that Sterling was not convicted of any crime during his tenure as owner of the Clippers. Sterling’s most high profile case came in 2009, when he agreed to pay $2.725 million to settle a housing discrimination lawsuit.

But we should keep in mind that Sterling also didn’t commit any crime when his audiotapes were made public during this year’s playoffs. But this time, the racist comments and the specific attack on Magic created a toxic environment for the Clippers and the NBA. The players threatened to boycott playoff games and sponsors were dropping out. Adam Silver handed down a lifetime suspension on Sterling because he had a moral obligation to do so as commissioner, but it was also because of the financial stakes involved if Sterling had remained as owner.

The last point is really what distinguished this Sterling incident from anything that happened under Stern’s watch. Despite all the lawsuits and allegations, the NBA was never threatened financially by Sterling’s indiscretions until now.

What do you think?

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