Sacramento mayor and former NBA player Kevin Johnson posted a letter on his Facebook page Monday night directed toward NBA Commissioner Adam Silver explaining why Donald Sterling should be stripped of his ownership privileges. He states the players demand severe punishment for racist comments attributed to the Clippers owner this week.
In the post he focuses on how the game is affected by Sterling’s comments and suggests a series of punishments on how Sterling no longer deserves to own an NBA team.
We’re at a defining moment in the history of the National Basketball Association.
And that’s sad, because when I think about historic, defining moments in basketball, I think about LeBron James becoming the youngest man to be drafted #1, become league MVP, and earn a triple-double. I think about the greats, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, meeting in the championship game for the first time in 1984. I think about the Boston Celtics of the 1960s winning six consecutive titles.
And I think about Earl Lloyd the first African American to play in the NBA in 1950 and Jason Collins the first openly gay player in the league.
I do not think about the racist comments of a wealthy white man who happens to own a sports franchise and who, until this week, the vast majority of Americans had never heard of.
But this much is true: how we choose to deal with Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling will absolutely be a defining moment in the NBA.
You’ve heard by now. This past Saturday an audio recording of Mr. Sterling making discriminatory comments surfaced. In the last 72 hours, I’ve been at the epicenter of a firestorm of questions and accusations about racism, civil rights, legal wranglings, moral imperatives, and economic consequences set off by Mr. Sterling.
As an African-American man I know firsthand that racism is still alive and well in our country. But as a former NBA player I also take heart in the fact that sports is one venue in which we can bridge the racial divide. Why? Because when people play on a team together, it unites them regardless of their differences. I didn’t care if a teammate was white, Black, Latino or even green. What I cared about was whether they worked with me to win. When fans rally around a team you see people of all walks of life hugging, screaming together, high-fiving and backslapping without regard to their color, creed or nationality.
Sports is an amazing convener. It has the power to bridge racial divides. And that’s what makes this incident especially disappointing.
But we can take advantage of this crisis. To do so, we need only to embrace sports as an agent of change. We have a unique opportunity to show that this ill-fated event will not become an illustration of our broader society. In fact, we can use this incident to show that our society will not tolerate such behavior.
The NBA and its new commissioner, Adam Silver, have the opportunity to send a clear message that there is no room for racism in our sport. By doing so, they can set the bar for what clear, decisive action to address reprehensible behavior looks like.
I’m honored to have been asked by the NBA Players Association to lead the effort to attend to this issue from the players’ standpoint. Over the past few days I’ve talked to our Executive Committee, Player Representatives, members of the full body and past players. All of us are united in our belief that we must be actively engaged in bringing this issue to resolution quickly and definitively. This experience has brought together current and former players, united for a cause that will make our sport better for future players. Our collective voice has become stronger as a result of this crisis.
Mr. Sterling’s comments represent the worst of ignorance and intolerance. Despite that, we cannot sit idly by and watch him implode. While some would argue that we should watch with glee as this racist business owner destroys himself, for the sake of the NBA, we must intervene and engage to bring this to resolution swiftly.
Current and former players are in strong agreement that Mr. Sterling and his views have no place in our league. To that end, the NBPA has asked Commissioner Silver to impose the most severe sanctions possible under the NBA bylaws. We may not have the power to force Mr. Sterling to sell his team, but make no mistake, we believe that Mr. Sterling should no longer have the privilege of being an owner of an NBA team. After all, how can we expect any player (the majority of whom are African-American) to want to work for him?
At a minimum, Mr. Sterling should be suspended indefinitely, banned from games, slapped with the maximum fine possible, and forced to extract himself from basketball operations. He should be required to name someone from his executive team or family to take over all duties related to the Clippers.
If the NBA takes this type of strong stand on this issue — and I have every confidence it will — it will prove to be a defining moment not just for the sport but for the entire nation. It will signal that the league is listening to its players and alum and treating them as valuable partners.
Then, we can get back to the business of basketball, and sports will once again have served to bridge the racial divide in our country rather than widen it.