NBA, Lapchick won’t get legal pushover in Donald Sterling

The NBA needs all the reinforcements it can get to pry the Los Angeles Clippers off Mr. Sterling’s grubby little hands
May 30, 2014
Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/MCT  The seats of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling sit empty before the start of play against the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of a Western Conference quarterfinal at Staples Center in Los Angeles last month.

The NBA has hired Richard Lapchick to help Donald Sterling go away.

This is a good thing.

No, make that a great thing.

Sterling is like the crazy, eccentric uncle no one wants anything to do with at the family picnic. Only he has boatloads of money, power, influence and the keys to an NBA franchise.

This is not a good thing.

Enter Lapchick, the ubiquitous “conscience of sports” who is also the director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport.

The league hired Lapchick to analyze Donald Sterling’s polarizing actions and words, and the impact it had on the NBA. Lapchick’s report noted that Sterling’s words contributed to “significantly undermining the NBA’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion” and was “damaging (to) the NBA’s relationship with its fans.”

No offense to Lapchick’s expertise, but most anybody could have drawn those conclusions. At least the NBA is smart enough to pull in as many influential observers as possible in trying to cut down the circus tent that Sterling has pitched around the league brand.

Let’s be honest: The NBA needs all the reinforcements it can get to pry the Los Angeles Clippers off Mr. Sterling’s grubby little hands.

Sterling will not go quietly. The NBA’s strong-arm tactics aren’t working, evidenced by a blistering 32-page response sent that Sterling and his legal eagles sent to the NBA on Tuesday.

“A jealous rant to a lover never intended to be published cannot offend the NBA rules,” Sterling wrote in the response. Sterling says he has no intentions of selling.

I am sure Sterling is ignoring Lapchick’s credible rebuttal and is intent on remaining courtside so can keep hooking up with women who no doubt love him because he’s sexy and he knows it.

Lapchick is a good man who literally wears the scars of racism. He was attacked in his campus dorm room in 1978 at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, where he was a professor. He was also one of the front-line critics calling for sports groups to boycott South Africa for its anti-apartheid policies at the time.

Lapchick has spent a lifetime trying to break down barriers of racism. Sterling has spent his lifetime building them.

The problem with this good guy/bad guy narrative is that the guy in the black hat has a lot of legal juice. It’s unclear whether Sterling gave his wife Shelly the legal power to sell the team. The league’s board of governors is expected to vote to strip the Sterlings of their right to control the team’s future on Tuesday.

The NBA’s challenge is proving that saying despicable things is legal grounds to force the Sterlings to sell. “Once it gets into the legal system all bets are off,” said a source close to the investigation.

In a court of law, I’d put all my chips on Sterling. Of course he is a racist dolt. But to banish him would also subject all 30 owners to the moralities of the thought police.

Sterling’s legal ammo includes comments made by Orlando Magic owner Rich DeVos, a conservative who has a strong stance against gay marriage. DeVos “has made highly controversial comments against individuals with HIV/AIDS and generously supports anti-homosexual causes with impunity,” Sterling said.

The Douglas and Maria DeVos Foundation, named for DeVos’ youngest son and the son’s wife, donated $500,000 to the National Organization for Marriage in 2009. The group is on the front lines of pushing for same-sex marriage bans in the United States.

Lapchick — who has strong business ties to the DeVos Sports Business Management program at UCF — declined to comment because of the legalities, only adding that he is donating his NBA fee to the DeVos program and the National Consortium for Academics and Sports.

Sterling has no philanthropic intentions. He wants to turn this into a brass-knuckles match in the courtroom.

It’s good to see Lapchick in the NBA’s corner, but I’m afraid the crazy uncle has a lot of legal clout to make this painful for anyone who stands in his way.

 

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