BENAC: NBA right to ban Sterling

Quick! Identify the person who said the following comments in public and in mixed company:

“That’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean.”

“Is she one of those black people that stink? Just evict the b-word.”

“I don’t have to spend any more money on them, they will take whatever conditions I give them and still pay the rent.”

If you said a white slave owner from the 1800’s, you’re close: these are quotes attributed to Donald Sterling, the 80-year old L.A. real estate magnate and owner of the L.A. Clippers basketball team.

Sterling, who made most of his billions offering apartments to poor minorities in L.A, recently made the news when a shocking tirade against his 31-year old girlfriend V. Stiviano aka Maria Vanessa Perez was made public.

The problem started when Stiviano posted an Instagram picture of her posing with Magic Johnson at a Clippers game. Johnson, as many of you may remember, was kind of a big name in L.A.

I won’t go into much detail about the exact quote as it’s quite lengthy and highly detailed. It mostly involved Sterling castigating Stiviano for associating with “black people” and “bringing them to my games.”

I hope the irony of a basketball team owner taking offense at bringing “black people” to a basketball game isn’t too heavy for most people to lift. Personally, I’m just about getting a hernia.

Now, there are a lot of complexities to this case. Sterling started by claiming that the audio was tampered with and that his voice was not on the tape. He has since admitted that it’s him, but offered no explanation or apology.

And then there’s the accuser, Stiviano. Her and Sterling’s relationship wasn’t exactly a secret, not even to Sterling’s wife, Rochelle.

In fact, the Sterlings are in the process of sueing Stiviano for “embezzlement” of $1.8 million dollars. Stiviano has indicated that this money was a “gift” from Sterling.

The age discrepancy between the 80-year old Sterling and the 31-year old Stiviano is causing many people to point fingers at Stiviano and accuse her of the age old art of gold digging.

However, I’m not here to break down this case and to weigh its truths and untruths. Instead, I want to detail why such an accusation against Sterling is hardly a surprise.

The shocking quotes I used to open this column are just some of the many instances of Sterling expressing antiquated racist or sexist beliefs. In fact, I could write a column by lining up his racist and sexist comments, verbatim, and letting them speak for themselves.

I think the thing that sticks out the most to me were comments he made about the NBA, saying “I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players.”

This quote indicates that Sterling has something of a slave owner mentality regarding his team, a feeling that was out of place when he bought the team in 1981, let alone in 2014.

Sterling’s racist behavior and beliefs have been an open secret in the NBA for decades and the league has traditionally turned the other cheek. Its now become clear that his behavior has been tolerated for way too long.

After all, this is a man who has been sued no less than 19 times for outrageous racist comments and for sexually harassing women with comments not fit to print in a family friendly newspaper.

Shame on the blind eye the NBA turned on this behavior for years. Former commissioner David Stern was not ignorant of this behavior or the complaints they caused. According to some reports, Stern was even present for at least a few of these comments!

Some will argue that a person shouldn’t be punished for speaking their mind, no matter how foul the opinion and that punishing this kind of behavior violates free speech.

This would be potentially true if it was the government issuing a fine, but a private institute can institute whatever fines it wants to its members, if that member violates rules, regulations and ethics.

In fact, moments after I typed this sentence, I read that Sterling was banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5M after his voice was confirmed on the tape.

This doesn’t mean that Sterling’s ownership over the Clippers hasn’t been revoked or taken away from him. This ban simply means he can no longer attend any NBA games.

That’s right: he can’t sit courtside for game after game as the usually mediocre Clippers limp to a subpar season. He can’t even watch this year’s playoff Clippers team.

That’s not all: new NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who instituted the ban, is also calling for a NBA team owner vote. Sterling can be forced to sell his team if 3/4 of the team owners vote yes.

That may seem harsh to some people, but I think its just about right.

After all, the NBA is an organization that has built its success on the blood, sweat and tears of players of a variety of races, especially African American players. Sterling’s comments, behaviors and beliefs violate not only the best interests of the NBA, but the best interest of race relations in America.

The irony of the situation is that Sterling was just about to be awarded a second Lifetime Achievement award from the NAACP, for his work with youth minorities in L.A.

In spite of his foul behavior and statements, Sterling has done a lot of philanthropic work for poor minorities.

Since his comments were made public, the NAACP has retracted that award and severed its formerly tight ties with Sterling.

If that seems unjust, just think of his ban as the Lifetime Achievement award he deserves. It is the reward he gets for a lifetime of denigrating, mocking and looking down on the very people to whom he owed his livelihood.

Eric Benac can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.