At the very end there was an absence of chaos. He lost. We knew he lost. So his quiet agreement to sell was nothing more than throwing in the towel. It was no longer a battle of wills. Reasonable minds understood. There was no point in prolonging the inevitable. Donald Sterling, the former litigator, knew he couldn’t win. So there was no chaos, no grand gestures, no ridiculously worded statement. It was a particularly quiet declaration: Donald Sterling agreed to the terms of the Clippers sale.
In April, when the world first knew of Donald Sterling’s behavior, the ground seemed to open up. Even that could not contain the rage. Not long after his words were rebuked, it trickled down, all of the vile things he had done in his past. First there was outrage. Then there was a suspension, collective anger, a proposed vote, 24 hour media coverage, interviews, revisionist history, disgusted players talking boycott. The playoffs were in a sense, irrelevant.
But here we are. Six weeks after it started, six weeks after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver angrily stood at a podium and willing took on the biggest social justice issue of his short tenure, it was all over. It ended as things of this kind often do- with lawyers and a lot of money promised. As reality shows go this was compelling and then it was ugly, it was 6 weeks of secrets and lies, of hand wringing and name calling and self absorption. Interviews and p.r. spin could hardly change the particulars, that Donald Sterling did this to himself, a self-inflicted wound. He blew his own house down. He lost what he loved and became a pariah. But a richer one.
Start with a private conversation, start there. What was between two people leaked to TMZ , the ethics of which were deplorable. Regardless of the messenger, it became a tsunami as soon the transcript hit Twitter and Facebook, ripping through land and seas, through professional sports and rural towns and had Anderson Cooper conducting an interview and some lunatic punching V. Stiviano in the face. Finally there was a last episode. Donald Sterling’s attorney, Max Blecher, on Wednesday evening, said the legal action by his client against the NBA was over. The 2 billion dollar sale of the Clippers to former Micrososft CEO Steve Ballmer was agreed to by all parties making this month and a half saga a footnote in a post season that should have been remembered for Lebron James and Tim Duncan but will not be.
There are no heroes here. Adam Silver took on the fight of Donald Sterling but for years, as David Stern’s top assistant, Adam Silver let the Donald Sterling virus metastasize into the Donald Sterling disease. In an act of benign indifference his fellow owners looked the other way for fear that their own suspect behavior would be outed on a public stage. Some, but surely not all of the media, shrugged as case after case of Donald Sterling’s discriminatory practices were litigated and then forgotten because, well, what did illegal housing practices have to do with sports? But if nothing else the Donald Sterling/Shelly Sterling saga was a litmus test on tolerance in a post racial world. Do both the messenger and the message need to be punished?
Long after everyone has exhaled, when summer nights are endless and hot, the Clippers will remember it was the night before game 4 in the first round of the playoffs when the audiotape trickled into their space. Their preparation for the Golden State Warriors was interrupted and so it all began, this back and forth, this-what-is-going-to-happen next, this hijacking of a sports league and a team, this wife taking over, this husband acting crazy, the lawyers speaking about the consequences. In the first round of the playoffs the Clippers valiantly eliminated the Golden State Warriors but didn’t have enough energy left to slay the Oklahoma City Thunder. Perhaps, by then, the Donald Sterling saga was becoming normal to them, so the ebb and flow was expected but it all felt as if they were cheated, as if all NBA teams and players and personnel were cheated. It seemed unfair on the one hand and totally fair on the other. When good men do nothing…isn’t that how the saying goes? Too many people for too many years allowed Donald Sterling’s unchecked behavior without discipline to exponentially grow and now it snowballed into something uncontrollable, almost an avalanche. Didn’t the NBA get what they deserved?
But now, as soon as he signs the papers, and as of yet he hasn’t signed anything, it will be over. Donald Sterling’s tenure in the NBA will be history and what happened in 2014 will be just another story. Steve Ballmer, the hyperactive, gregarious, outgoing extrovert, who intends to use his money to erect a powerhouse with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul guiding the ship, will be a welcome addition to the NBA owners club. He’ll spend and he’ll reap rewards. Outside of their own market the Clippers will be a sympathetic team to root for; inside Los Angeles nothing much will have changed. The Clippers television ratings will still be half of the Lakers, Chris Paul will still be booed at Dodgers and Kings game. But Donald Sterling will be gone. That’s something no one ever thought would happen. Of all the things he has done in his basketball career and housing career it always felt as if Donald Sterling would outlive everyone, that he would beat every one of his enemies because the good die young. And then he was, for the first time in a long time, unlucky. He had a conversation and it was leaked to TMZ. The world hated him. The game was finally over. He lost, he lost big. He lost everything. And in a twist of fate that seems impossibly lucky, the rest of us won.