Jerrod Mustaf, SportsBlog.com Presents: Legends Corner- Featuring continuous and compelling blogs written by NBA veterans, Legends Corner is the content hub for some of basketball's most legendary players. on
Some things in an athlete's life should be more important than winning a championship. Well-compensated athletes have been socialized since Pop Warner to develop a singular focus on winning...and often to win at all costs.
Every NBA player buys into the thought that their list of priorities should be: Ring, God, family, etc. with anything remotely connected to social issues buried deep at the bottom of that personal list.
The very disturbing comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner and slumlord Donald Sterling, about minorities and Blacks in particular, have given priority to an issue that is bigger than a ring. Sports have historically been the great equalizer for cultural, religious, political, and racial differences. The common jersey worn by teammates has forged friendships and life-long relationships between Blacks and whites, as well as Jews, Christians and Muslims.
This weekend, that sanctuary and American institution was violated by the longest-tenured owner in the NBA, with the revelation of his candid feelings about minorities. The outrage and condemnation of Sterling's remarks was unrelenting as players, fans, President Obama, and almost everyone else with a voice who "love this game" commented, with the exception of fellow NBA owners not named Michael Jordan.
The Clippers players who were unfairly placed in a compromising position on Game Day elected to stage a minor protest by wearing their warmups inside-out, but played the game nonetheless; without any assurances from the NBA on 'action'. The highly anticipated press conference from the rookie NBA Commissioner on Friday night failed to deliver any meaningful plan of action against Don Sterling, leaving the players frustrated and confused.
Once again, the million dollar slaves find themselves on the wrong side of history. Just three short years ago, then NBA Commissioner David Stern locked the players out of the League and forced them to accept a hard salary cap to guarantee the 30 NBA owners a consistent profit margin from the skilled player labor. Without a viable alternate professional league to compete in, the players held no leverage in negotiations, which meant players like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony would have to accept considerable reductions in salary for the remainder of their careers ....if they wanted to contend for that elusive ring! With the power firmly entrenched in the office of the NBA Commissioner, the Executive Director of the Player's Union was unceremoniously maligned and publicly castigated, resulting in an inexcusable vacancy for the past 14 months.
Contrary to public perception, the NBA Commissioner works on behalf of the NBA owners, and the Player's Union lobbies on behalf of the players. Therefore, if the players expected the League to punish an owner on behalf of the players for insensitive remarks, then the players didn't get that memo either. They simply have no advocate.
While the NBA is the most diverse professional sports league in the world, the culture of NBA ownership is relatively intact. The fact remains that in 68 years, there is still only one majority-minority owner in the NBA and he (MJ) was only able to purchase from another minority during a 'fire sale'. The question for the owners who have been largely silent on the Sterling matter, is whether they are also part of the culture often mentioned on the Sterling recordings, and is this the investigation that Adam Silver was referring that he would initiate. Since Sterling has not denied that he was the one speaking, we must conclude that he did make those ill-advised, but frank remarks.
The past weekend saw the players vent their frustrations regarding the comments on social media platforms and then presented current Sacramento Mayor and former NBA player Kevin Johnson as Union spokesman in the absence of an executive director. Kevin Johnson made it clear during his televised remarks that he was in conversation with the Commissioner and laid out the player expectations for swift action and joint participation in the punishment of Donald Sterling.
But again, the players have failed to realize that they are merely million dollar slaves and not equitable partners in the NBA. They have failed to seize every opportunity to adjust the by-laws and governance of the NBA during each lop-sided negotiation, so absolute control of the NBA remains in the office of the Commissioner, who is paid handsomely by the owners. Character clauses and the imposition of fines and suspensions is at the discretion of the owners and the Commissioner, while the 'field help' gets arbitration after-the-fact.
Yesterday, the Clippers, led by Chris Paul, had a historical opportunity to alter the balance of power in the NBA and ensure desired strong and swift action be taken immediately. Paul and his teammates could have retreated back into the locker room and refused to play unless Commissioner Adam Silver, who was present at the game, took immediate action against Sterling.
A precedent for immediate action had been established by Hall-of-Famer Elgin Baylor, who filed a discrimination lawsuit against Sterling in 2009, and led a successful strike at the 1964 NBA All-Star Game by refusing to play just before the game unless the NBA owners agreed to recognize the Player's Union.
My optimism for players utilizing their considerable leverage to effect real change in the NBA has been diminished by their historical acceptance of just being grateful to play in the beloved NBA for a few gold coins.
Donald Sterling, who brought the Clippers for $12.5 million in 1981, still owns the franchise that is now valued at $585 million. Chris Paul, who was an early 2011 Christmas present from then-Commissioner Davis Stern to his friend Donald Sterling, has indirectly attributed to the surge in the value of the franchise. It's a great thought that Sterling would voluntarily step down from his ownership of the Clippers, but if you are foolish enough to think that the Sterling family would give up a cash-making 'plantation', think again.
In the wake of the incendiary comments by Sterling, we are waiting to see if Paul is the revolutionary lead guard he is purported to be, or if he is just another Million Dollar Slave. How he handles this situation may be the most important assist of his career.