Dare We Say The Wicked Wretch Is Finally Gone?

Is it finally safe to continue our lives? Are we finished with the daily swarm of Donald Sterling madness that jerked our minds in directions not thought possible, even through decades of sporting scandals? Can we at last sing along with my song — “Ding dong, the wretch is dead, the wretch is dead, ding dong, the wicked wretch is dead!’’ — without worrying that Sterling will resurface one last time, like that monster under the bed?

According to his attorney, we indeed can move on. Sterling, says Maxwell Blecher, has “made an agreement with the NBA to resolve all their differences.’’ This seems to officially confirm that the racist dolt has come to whatever senses he has retained at 80. Not many of us could get away with making an all-time slur on a tape and walk away with a possible $1 billion, but it appears The West Coast Donald could reap the amount from the so-called Sterling Family Trust now that his wife, Shelly, has orchestrated the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion. Remember the $1 billion lawsuit that Sterling filed last week against the league?

It’s being dropped, Blecher said.

Ding dong, the wretch is dead, the wretch is dead …

We had a good feeling the night before when Sterling, appearing at a charity event, told an L.A. television station that he was done with threats of a steel-cage-match proceeding against the NBA. “I feel fabulous, I feel very good,” he said of the team sale. “Everything is just the way it should be, really. It may have worked out differently, but it’s good. It’s all good.”

Then he invoked the name of NBA commissioner Adam Silver, the man who brought Sterling down, without slurring or cursing him. “I’m OK, I’m OK,” Sterling said. “Is the NBA OK? I’m not sure about that. Is Adam Silver OK? I’m sure he’s OK.”

Let Sterling fade away, buy an island and never invade the American consciousness again. Let this V. Stiviano character have some common sense, stay home for a year or two and avoid thugs who want to beat her up outside New York hotels. Let these people sue each other.

I want to watch a great basketball series. Now, I can.

Sterling may be “mentally incapacitated,’’ as his wife and league suggested last week, but in a way, we too are sick puppies. We devote an uncomfortable, disproportionate amount of attention to sports in this country, to the point a long-bedraggled basketball franchise in Los Angeles can sell for $2 billion. Have you pondered the future sales prices of more prominent sports teams when the Clippers are sold for such a preposterous sum? Have you weighed the continuing astronomical spikes in broadcast rights fees, how fans may be priced out of the sacred experience of watching their favorite teams on TV at home? Have you wondered what athletes are thinking about their own salaries about now, and what that those increases will do to ticket prices?

If America is still climbing out of a recession, sport has become the gold rush, a jet propulsion force driving the American economy like few other industries. Why do you think major media companies are financially imbedding themselves with sports leagues for 10, 20, 30 years? Those cozy romances have all but wiped out any chance of watchdog journalism of those relationships, since those media companies have bought off the more dangerous viewpoints of the commentators who work for them, not that it will stop me on this proudly independent site. And to think I gulped when Nolan Ryan became the first million-dollar-a-year player in 1980, which was only 34 years ago, a year before Sterling used his real-estate-boom money in southern California to buy the San Diego Clippers.

“You could have bought the entire city of San Diego for $2 billion in 1981,’’ comedian Adam Carolla told me.

TWO BILLION DOLLARS FOR THE L.A. CLIPPERS. What is Jerry Jones thinking? What are Hal and Hank Steinbrenner thinking? What is the Buss family thinking

Know how many homeless people could be fed with $2 billion? How many kids we could educate? What are these egomaniacal men doing spending so much money on toys? Isn’t the Porsche and the call girl enough these days?

You know what’s next. A party. At Staples Center. With the former Microsoft CEO and new Clippers owner, Ballmer, as the star of the proceedings as a band plays my song,
even if Ballmer has defied common logic by spending such a staggering sum on a sports team — in particular, THIS sports team. Until recently, the Clippers were a national laughingstock, thanks to the shabby leadership of Sterling, who had been a long-running joke before becoming a pathetic figure when his now-infamous racial rant was recorded unwillingly by a gold-digging companion. Now, suddenly, because of that racial rant, Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly, could have a frantic bid competition out of her Malibu estate and declare Ballmer the winner.

Consider what has happened here. Donald Sterling is exposed as a racist, the NBA bans him for life, Shelly sells the team for $2 billion — about $1 billion more than it would have gone for before the rant — because Ballmer and other bidding parties, such as the David Geffen-Oprah Winfrey supergroup, wanted to be the 21st-century social heroes who rubbed out Sterling and embraced inclusiveness. It’s also a hoot to see your name splashed in a top-of-the-front page headline in USA Today, as Ballmer experienced last week.

To think the Clippers are the object of the second-highest franchise purchase in American sports history — well, it makes us pause and wonder how damned valuable these ventures will be for generations to come. Consider how Ballmer plans on recouping his investment through TV money. Three years ago, we gasped when the Los Angeles Dodgers were sold for $2.3 billion, then realized it was something of a bargain when Guggenheim Partners sold TV rights to Time Warner Cable for more than $8 billion. Though the Clippers long have been a distant second to the glorified Lakers in the NBA pecking order in southern California, a massive marketplace gives Ballmer a chance to thrive anyway. In my next life, I want to own a sports team in Los Angeles.

Bet I could do a better job than Donald Sterling.

So now we can enjoy a potentially epic Finals instead of dealing with Sterling. A group of 29 NBA owners avoided a mess, not having to participate in a potentially disturbing vote process in New York — the kind of Sterling circus the league didn’t need in June. One reason the sale proceedings took on a breakneck pace was the owners’ wish not to be at that meeting. They would have had to vote on terminating Sterling’s ownership interests, and if the final tally wound up less than a unanimous 29-0, then a league with a predominant ratio of African-American players would be clouded by yet another racial controversy: Which owners supported Sterling in a vote?

Silver and the owners didn’t want that chaos. They wanted to move on, hand the franchise to Ballmer and see the Clippers, with Doc Rivers as head coach and basketball boss and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin as the popular cornerstones, become one of the league’s sturdiest and competitive franchises. It won’t be that easy. Sterling could have used his legal expertise to drag on this mess for weeks, months, hopefully not years, but now its lawyers won’t have to answer Sterling’s lawsuit. Everyone can celebrate golden boy Ballmer, who was rebuffed by the NBA last year in attempts to purchase the Kings and move them from Sacramento to Seattle but outbid Geffen’s group and all other recent comers to win the frenzied, madcap competition.

“I am delighted that we are selling the team to Steve, who will be a terrific owner,’’ Silver said in a statement. “We have worked for 33 years to build the Clippers into a premier NBA franchise. I am confident that Steve will take the team to new levels of success.’’

Said Ballmer, who says he will not relocate the Clippers to Seattle: “I love basketball. And I intend to do everything in my power to ensure that the Clippers continue to win — and win big — in Los Angeles. L.A. is one of the world’s great cities — a city that embraces inclusiveness, in exactly the same way that the NBA and I embrace inclusiveness. I am confident that the Clippers will in the coming years become an even bigger part of the community.’’

Already established by a marketing research poll as America’s most disliked man, Sterling also would have been the planet’s biggest fool if he didn’t eventually take the money and scram. So he had his heart broken by a gold-digger and his basketball business snatched away by his longtime partners. Move on, old man.

“The state of the game is fantastic,’’ Silver said. “The best years are ahead of us.’’

The NBA’s future is immeasurably better without Donald Sterling. In the aforementioned poll, he is more disliked in America than Bernie Madoff, O.J. Simpson, Justin Bieber, Aaron Hernandez, Michael Lohan and Eliot Spitzer. More disliked than men accused of murder? Yep.

That’s why he had no choice but to count his blessings, take the money and run. Who else screws up infamously and makes $1 billion out of it? That is about is explainable as the Clippers selling for $2 billion. Ain’t that America?