David Mainiero's Sports Blog

Random thoughts on sports news and the occasional picks and predictions:

Donald Sterling is well-known for his outlandish remarks, largely unsuccessful stint as owner of the Clippers, and not-so-subtle racism. He's been sued in federal court for it and he's been caught on tape and on camera saying some pretty outlandish things. He even was sued by Elgin Baylor for asking prospective coaching candidates how they think they'd be able to "coach these N***ers?"

Here's his latest transgression:

  Clippers Owner Donald Sterling to GF - Don't Bring Black People to My Games, Including Magic Johnson

  - Watch More

  Celebrity Videos



While Sterling holds back on some of the more virulent racism that may or may not be going through his head during the conversation, he very clearly exhibits the type of "plantation owner" mentality that has unfortunately plagued professional sports leagues like the NBA and NFL for years. This, along with Dan Gilbert's 2010 Summer rant against LeBron (which is a less clear example of racism, and a more clear example of an arrogant man who has often demanded a higher platform when he speaks in public), are unfortunate reminders of the omnipresent specter of race-related issues in sports and society today. The idea that Sterling conveys to this woman on the phone--that it's OK for him to associate with these people because they work for him and ostensibly make him money, but not for her  to so because she is a "delicate woman" is problematic on many levels including but not at all limited to the following:

1. Blatant sexism  - "delicate woman," telling her who she can and can't be seen with or photographed with

2. Acknowledgement of his friends' racism - whoever tipped him off to the picture clearly was just as racist and may have triggered this reaction on the part of Sterling

2. Plantation mentality - it's OK to smile and shake hands with Magic Johnson and cheer for his non-white players and coaches because it's all part of a money-making enterprise over which he (thinks he) has total control

4. Subtle implication of the "Dangerous Minority Other"- by framing his girlfriend as the "delicate woman" and dictating her behavior, he juxtaposes that imagery with that of an over-aggressive, untrustworthy, dangerous, and/or violent minority (in this case, a black man)

Everyone has recognized him as the worst owner in the NBA for quite some time, but no one has done anything about it because the narrative has always taken the shape of "Sterling hasn't producde a winning team more than twice in the past 30 years" rather than "Sterling thinks of himself like a plantation owner." However, quietly, everyone in the upper echelons of the NBA has recognized him as the racist he truly is.

Frankly, there's nothing much they really could have done about it besides send him official warning letters or small (relative to his $1.9b net worth) fines much like employees' minor infractions are dealt with by companies. However, this isn't the case anymore in the era where players are fined for every little behavioral infraction, on and off the court. The NFL (and the Eagles) fined and suspended Riley Cooper for his comments, which weren't nearly as hateful as Donald Sterling's pervasive racism. Cooper was outcasted (at least temporarily) by his team, and other teams relished the chance to hit him (which you can't really do in the NBA unless you are Josh McRoberts or Nene) and it was at least somewhat of a teachable moment. Under David Stern's leadership, Sterling has enjoyed a type of "ownership immunity" that not even coaches, GMs and other front-office staff, and certainly players have enjoyed. It's almost like he's in the CIA, but hiding under the blanket of "diplomatic immunity."

While I think that some of the NBA's (and NFL's) policing of the personal lives of its players (except when it involves serious allegations of criminality) is an overstepping of its authority, it's warranted in many cases. It's especially warranted because these conduct policies are codified in the leagues' respective collective bargaining agreements, and so both sides have agreed that it is reasonable and bargained for it to some extent.

However, this situation is particularly poignant because it doesn't just involve some random racist remark (which would still be deplorable, of course,) but it involves Magic Johnson. Magic Johnson has been an ambassador for the game, and is responsible in large part for the huge growth in popularity of the league (and thus, by extension, the owners' fortunes to the extent that they run their teams as profitable businesses). For an NBA owner to tell his girlfriend (or paramour, if you're feeling particularly NSFW Game of Thrones-ish) to not bring Magic Johnson (or any other minorities) is absolutely a relevant and disciplinable offense in the NBA.

However, Adam Silver (as representative of the owners' and thus partially as representative of Sterling) is put in a strange position here. This will be the first major crisis of his tenure as commissioner, and I'm sure he will be in close consultation with David Stern about what he should do. His range of actions is fairly limited, but he should still take them. Then, he should facilitate or at very least rely on the groundswell of anti-Stern sentiment that will undoubtedly arise across the league and try to push Sterling out of the league. Whatever the punishment should be, it should be a fine levied directly on Sterling, and not a punishment on the players (i.e., forfeiture of future draft picks, etc.)

While we might ask players to take a stand---and I'm sure some high profile players will---it's a very difficult position to put them in for them to be asked to boycott (lose money), forfeit (lose money and set back their basketball careers), not want to play for the Clippers (which would either make turn the Clippers into a team of non-minorities willing to tolerate Sterling's racism, and also make basketball players have less opportunities by limiting the already limited amount of roster spots available - i.e. jobs), or make a symbolic gesture against their owner and boss (risking contract extensions for anyone but the biggest star players). However, the high-profile players, like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan can and should organize a symbolic action in defiance of Donald Sterling to encourage the groundswell of popular opinion necessary to force Sterling to publicly apologize, step down, sell, or some other appropriate course of action.

Chris Paul is in a unique position as leader of the players association, but it's unfair for him to have to focus on something like this in the midst of an important playoff series. However, those are the realities of life. Despite the bad blood between the Clippers and Warriors, I'm sure that Doc Rivers, Mark Jackson, and their respective players would be more than happy to cooperate to denounce Sterling's action by doing something like delaying the start of the game, wearing anti-racism patches or insignias on their jerseys, or demanding a public apology from Sterling in order for the game to begin. If both teams were to cooperate on something like this, it would force the league to do something. And, in order to protect the image and profitability of the league, they would certainly do whatever they had to do to Sterling in order to make this awesome playoff series go on. The winner of the other side of the bracket needs an opponent, and they aren't just going to let them go on with a bye if these two teams refuse to play.

Some options are as follows for the players/coaches, and should be led and organized by the prominent players: 
1. Immediately file a (possibly, class-action) employment discrimination lawsuit on behalf of the NBA Players Association against Donald Sterling for creating a hostile work environment and a litany of other offenses. This wouldn't require much effort from Chris Paul and he could have legal counsel do it all, file something preliminary for the signaling effect, and continue pursuing the litigation after the playoffs. The NBA should also be named as a defendant in this lawsuit in order to force their hand.

While I haven't dug into the mechanics of how this would go down, I'm almost certain that it could happen in at least some productive fashion. At very least, it's a legal strategy that forces the NBA to take action on what it should have taken action on decades ago. Any kind of retaliation (not extending contracts, defaming them, docking them pay) by Sterling against players would be a serious violation of employment discrimination law. (An interesting thing to note, depending on how this recording was actually obtained, is its admissibility as evidence in a court proceeding.

This evidentiary issue would be a non-issue if Sterling tries to issue some kind of public acknowledgement and/or apology, which I'm sure his PR people and the rest of the Clippers organization will highly recommend he do...better consult with counsel about that first, Donald.) It's also possible that the CBA prevents such a suit, but there are almost certainly ways around that, and the CBA probably includes an arbitration clause under which Sterling would almost certainly lose in front of a neutral arbitrator. The CBA, however, might not apply if there is some kind of antitrust related action or really weird incarnation of a shareholder derivative suit or fiduciary duty suit initiated the rest of the owners of the NBA. It's pretty uncharted territory because of the "acceptable monopoly" status of major sports leagues in the United States and the associate anti-trust exemptions, to say the least, but it should definitely be tested. Sterling would almost certainly countersue claiming anti-trust violations, but it wouldn't seem like he'd have much sympathy from any judge, jury, or the public. The suit and the publicity would probably have such a negative spillover effect on his other business ventures that he'd voluntarily settle.

2. Engage in multiple symbolic gestures against Sterling, organized by players and coaches from both teams. Doc Rivers and Mark Jackson have the media clout, respect, and personality to be able to pull this type of thing off. Symbolic gestures would include: delaying the start of the game, refusing to take the floor until a public apology (in the arena) was issued by Sterling (should he choose to attend the game), wearing anti-racism patches on their jerseys, and wearing a symbolic article of clothing or accessory. If both coaches could wear something like this, or players/coaches could give a speech to the crowd before a game, that would also be highly public and highly effective. This might be an area where the NBA can look to the anti-racism campaigns of European soccer teams for some inspiration.

Also, I'm sure there are owners out there like Mark Cuban that can come out and denounce Sterling and demand action. I'm sure there are already a couple who have (or at least, I hope that is the case). Billionaires, as you can see, aren't scared of voicing their opinions loudly and publicly. Guys like Cuban are great for the NBA because they'll tell it like it is. Time to lead the charge, Mark.

It sucks that Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Doc Rivers, Magic Johnson, and other guys are in this super awkward position, but there couldn't be a more likable and accomplished group to lead the charge against Sterling.

Griffin, an affable superhero, and his sidekick should take action immediately. Having the team collectively "do the Blake face" to show their disapproval for Sterling would be hilarious, but not enough.

While Blake and Chris are busy with the playoffs, maybe they can enlist Cliff for an assist, "inspire a new generation of that can't deny the power of an assist, and truly get us to a better state." (Note: this isn't intended to be a Kia or State Farm ad...just a relevant, and kind of stupid joke to demonstrate the media power of guys like Griffin and Paul.)


Update: Doc Rivers' reaction is totally expected and understandable because Sterling's behavior shouldn't get in the way of these players and coaches' aspirations. However, there's still room for some symbolic behavior that will go a long way. DeAndre Jordan and Doc Rivers have done a good job in sending the message that this isn't OK, and won't be tolerated. But, there's still much more to be done. A show of solidarity from Mark Jackson and the Warriors organizations would be terrific to see.

See Doc's comments here (because I imagine the team will not be commenting as Doc explains):

Now that I've gotten over my disappointment that LeBron didn't score 100 and live up to my ridiculous expectations and dreams when when he was on pace to do just that after the first quarter against the Cavs (which I guess could be a blessing in disguise because I don't want him to have any more happy thoughts associated with the city of Cleveland until he re-signs with Miami for the discernible future). OK, enough Heat ranting. March Madness time.

Here's an ugly version of my bracket because my friend didn't invite me to our league with the correct e-mail address. Please forgive him.

Anyway, the Pitt and Harvard upsets worked out well for me, but Dayton and BYU went ahead and lost me a billion dollars. Not picking Oregon was stupid, but I was rushed. Also, picking BYU in anything but the first game despite them being one of the last teams in the tournament was also a pretty dumb thing for me to do. Billion dollar mistakes.

Side Note: Harvard Basketball is killing it. Are these consecutive tournament appearances/wins the residual Jeremy Lin boost or just the normal ebb and flow of relevance of an Ivy League basketball team?

           In honor of Dwayne Wade's recent return to form since the All-Star Break, check out this throwback post from the spring before Lebron's "Decision" in 2010 from my good friend Andrew Zolot. My nostalgia for the pre-decision glory days is running strong as the playoffs and the impending free agency of the Big Three draws nearer and another glorious rebuild comes ever closer. This article was originally written for The Dartmouth Independent, but their site is unfortunately no longer online, so here it is:

          The phrase “talk to the hand” was popularized by esteemed thespian Martin Lawrence during the five season run of his sitcom Martin.

 Its use, together with the implied second half of the statement “because the face is not listening,” allowed the 90’s American to ward off any homies that were attempting to ice their grill easily and effectively. Then Martin went off the air in 1997, and, sadly, the phrase has been unusable ever since. Unusable, that is, until Sunday afternoon when Dwyane Wade, in the midst of one of the dopest playoffs performances witnessed since these phrases were in vogue, went old school on the Boston Celtics. After scoring eleven points in the first two minutes and forty-seven seconds of the fourth quarter, Wade trotted down the floor, talking to his own hand. And every face in the American Airlines Arena was listening.

            Dwyane’s performance is notable first and foremost for the ease and style with which he converted a six point deficit to a five point lead. At this stage in his career, it’s rarely surprising when Wade goes supernova and almost single-handedly wins a game. He outscored the entire Celtics team by himself in the fourth quarter, posting nineteen points to the Celtics’ fifteen on five of six shooting from the field. He drained all four threes he took. Make no mistake: these are not human qualities. Few other players have that gear, and it’s precisely this type of play that makes Wade the de facto second prize in what will be one of the hottest free agent markets the NBA has ever experienced (second prize after LeBron James, who is hereafter referred to as “Optimus Prime” based on the fact that he is an indestructible basketballing machine, and because we’re keeping this firmly grounded in nineties pop culture). 

            Wade’s antics in those moments when his greatness comes to the fore make him, at least for this Heat fan, the best entertainer in the game. He has only two peers in the NBA skill-wise in Kobe and LeBroptimus. But Kobe is at the point where he is so accustomed to his greatness that game winning shots don’t even faze him. Sure, he’ll knock ‘em down almost every time, but the only reward is a cool nod and possibly a chest bump or two. He’s not in it for the fans, he’s just a creature that needs to win to validate the insane amount of work he puts into the game (and for good reason). Optimus, on the other hand, is very much the greatest basketball show on earth. He is a veritable three-ring-circus, a basketball freakshow from another planet. No other player is as physically gifted, no other player as unstoppable. He jumps higher, passes more accurately, runs faster, and does everything but lay waste to opponents with shoulder-mounted rockets and lasers. But even when LeBron is peering down into the rim – literally – as he tomahawks another two points that feel like they should count for ten, the performance is somehow cheapened by the fact that you simply expect it. The man is six-feet-nine-inches of the greatest athlete you will ever witness. You would be disappointed if he didn’t dominate.

            Wade’s game, on the other hand, is all drama. He stands a mere 6’4”, yet he collects blocks on the biggest players in the league through sheer how-the-hell-does-he-jump-that-high?-ness. He weaves through defenses with a slick combination of wicked handles and changes of direction that are impossible to predict or keep up with. And he has an unmatched sense for the moment. Case in point: March 9th, 2009, Bulls-Heat, three seconds left in the second overtime, Wade steals the ball from John Salmons and dribbles the length of the court, hitting a running three pointer to win the game as time expires. He then sprints over and jumps up onto the scorer’s table, screaming over and over that “This is my house!” just in case it was still in doubt. Or how about the time he blocked Amare Stoudemire (only six inches taller than Wade) with his forearm, launched a sixty-eight-foot shot and danced all the way down court as it splashed through? YouTube that insanity if you haven’t seen it. And then there was Sunday, when Wade screamed at his own hand like a madman after putting in another signature, game-winning performance. As he said after the game, “I was telling [my hand] he was hot. We were having a conversation about that.” This is the attitude and these are the moments that make Wade one of the most adored and sought after brands in the league. And this is why I want him to stay in Miami.

            Of course, four-for-four-from-three is out of character for Wade, a point made all the more salient as he missed all three treys in the fourth quarter of game five. Unable to produce another Herculean effort to pull the rest of the flotsam that fills out the roster into the win column, Wade and the Heat crashed out of the first round of the playoffs for the third time in four years. And so the summer that will make or break the Heat franchise has just about arrived. The speculation over where Wade, Optimus, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, and the rest of the Summer of ‘10 free agent class will land is only barely overshadowed by the playoffs, but it’s no secret that Wade’s preferred option is to build a title contender in Miami. That he will stay is no foregone conclusion, though. His first priority is winning, and after the game five loss Wade made the prediction, “This will be my last first-round exit for a while.”

           The burning question is whether Pat Riley can lure the right free agent to Miami to persuade Wade to stay. The Heat figure to have about $24 million in cap room to work with, more than enough to sign a max free agent and then some. And that’s not even taking into account the possibility that the Heat might be able to move Michael Beasley, James Jones, and Daequan Cook to take their payroll all the way down to zero, aside from Wade. With a projected cap around $56 million next season, that leaves the possibility that two max free agents could join Wade in Miami.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Heat’s future is just as much about what happens after the dust settles and the marquee free agents have signed their max contracts. Signing Dwyane and another max free agent would make the Heat instant contenders in the East, but the makeup of the rest of the roster would determine whether they are good enough to bring home rings. The only three players currently on the roster that are relevant in that regard are Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers, and Michael Beasley. Wade has stated before that he would prefer Udonis Haslem (and Dorell Wright) stay with him wherever he signs, going so far as to say in his most recent interview, “I would love for them to be here. I would love for them to be with me for the rest of my career. They’re like my brothers. I love those guys.”

Trying not to read too much into Wade’s use of the word “here” – i.e. in Miami – it’s reassuring that he acknowledges Haslem’s value to the organization. Haslem, the only other holdover besides Wade from the 2006 championship team, is the Heat’s second best player, their most consistent rebounder, and an incredibly clutch shooter from 16-18 feet. Keeping Haslem, a consistent contributor and possible starter with whom Wade is very close and incredibly comfortable on the basketball court, should be a priority. Wright is expendable, but could prove an economic backup if resigned for at or less than the $2.75 he is due in this, the final year of his contract.

Then there are the enigmas of Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley, the Heat’s top two draft picks from the 2008 draft. Mario Chalmers has struggled with his consistency this season after an impressive rookie campaign in which he started every game and proved to be a dynamic backcourt with Wade, providing a consistent three-point option as well as generating plenty of steals. Chalmers should be retained, if only because he represents cheap labor. The Heat have a $847,000 team option for next season that would provide a backup point guard, and possibly a starter, at as much of a discount as they’re likely to find in the market this summer.

Beasley, on the other hand, should be shown the exit. It’s tough to swallow, but it appears that Beasley was, if not a bust, surely not worthy of the second pick that the Heat spent on him two years ago. The monstrous statistics he put up in his freshman year of college have simply not translated to the NBA. He has difficulty scoring against the physically imposing defenses in the league, his shot is streaky at best, and his rebounding has suffered now that he doesn’t hold a physical advantage over his opponents. Add to that his off court issues and lack of focus and discipline in late game situations, and you’d be hard pressed to justify spending the $5 million he would be due next season. His offensive promise is unquestioned, and there will likely be a team out there willing to take a gamble on his upside, specifically in a deal that would be designed to clear cap space for Miami. Beasley could thus be gotten on the cheap, and the Heat could be rid of their failed project in the hopes of building a contender with the money freed up. That brings us to the main event (although how everything will shake out chronologically is the basis of much speculation): assembling a contender. The formula is pretty simple. The Heat won a championship in 2006 with a young Dwyane Wade and an old Shaquille O’Neal. 2006 was Wade’s coming out party, and Shaq’s last year of real dominance. Following that logic, an older Wade in his prime plus another all star in his prime should again catapult the Heat to the upper reaches of the league’s pecking order. It’s only fitting that three of the top four free agents, aside from Optimus and Wade himself, are big men. Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, and Carlos Boozer have all shown the ability to play both power forward and center. Any one of them would slide into the 5 slot that has been vacant since Shaq was shipped to the Phoenix. Center is, of course, the Heat’s biggest need, as the position has only technically been filled in the past couple years by the undersized Haslem and the corpses of Jamal Magloire and Jermaine O’Neal. Stoudemire was nearly traded to Miami at the trade deadline this season, Boozer is on record stating his preference for Miami (he has a house there), and Bosh is widely reported to be seeking to ply his trade somewhere in the south after being trapped with playoff nonentities Toronto.

Of course, then there’s the pipe dream of pairing Wade with Optimus and bringing showtime to South Florida. I’ll be the first to admit that the odds are extremely long, and so won’t spend much time on it, but allow yourself a moment to share the fantasy. How would you play LeBron and Wade if you couldn’t double either of them, because to do so would be to automatically give the other two points?

But before any of this even matters to Miami, they have to ensure that Wade resigns. The repeated insinuations by the Celtics’ color commentator during game four that “this could be Wade’s last game in a Heat uniform” were certainly unnerving. As if! The proposition is a doomsday scenario, and would spell the crippling of the franchise, even if the Heat did sign another all star. I, for one, choose to take solace in Wade’s increasingly suggestive comments in recent interviews while nervously awaiting this summer’s soap opera to unfold. “I’ve said it all year. My heart is here. Everybody knows me, I’m mostly heart more so than anything. That’s all I can say. My heart is in Miami and if everything works out I’ll be in Miami again.” And if everything does work out, Miami, and the NBA, very well might be on the verge of birthing a new basketballing dynasty, one that would demand the creation of an entirely new slang lexicon where “talking to the hand” means the affirmation of greatness. Word? Word.

Greg Oden will not only be suiting up for today's game against the Bulls, but he will be in the starting lineup. This marks the first time that Oden will be in an NBA starting lineup since December 2009 and bodes extremely well for the Heat. He's been playing relatively regularly with no notable setbacks (crossing fingers). Miami's training staff has done a great job staying disciplined with its approach to getting Oden back into shape so that he can make an impact in the playoffs against Indiana for the ECF and whoever comes out of the Western Conference for the Finals. With Lebron sitting out this afternoon to nurse his broken nose, this should be a good spark for Miami.

It should be interesting to see how many minutes Oden logs this afternoon. His conditioning is getting better, but he still has only broken double digits in minutes a couple times thus far. I'd like to see him get at least 15 minutes tonight. Starting should help him stay warm when he re-enters the game (to start the second half) while giving him plenty of rest in between spurts on the court.

It's unlikely that Philadelphia agrees to buy out Danny Granger's contract for the remainder of the year. But, if for some reason this actually does happen, that opens the window for Granger to go to the Heat, which will make the Turner/Allen-Granger Trade a colossal mistake for Indiana. Even if everything goes right though, it seems like Granger might prefer to go to the Thunder or Spurs. Both of those teams might actually have the ability to afford to pay him on a new deal next year and can offer Granger significant playing time. The Spurs have a knack for salvaging veteran players whose careers have been threatened by prolonged injury or other fit issues and Granger would be a great fit in their system. The Heat, on the other hand, have also demonstrated the fountain-of-youth-type ability to resuscitate the careers of yesterday's stars. Granger would have to hold a serious grudge against Indiana to run off and join the Heat, but if he's truly hungry for a championship, he might just do that. Miami is probably the best stage for him to show off the mark he can make on a new team and the role he will be able to play on a championship contender; he needs to prove he can still make a big impact in order to get the type of new contract he would have been all but guaranteed had he not continued to have injury struggles over the past couple of years.

Still, any scenario in which Granger leaves the Sixers before the end of this season remains a long shot, even if Granger gives the them a big financial break on the buyout. Essentially, they would have been giving up Lavoy Allen and Evan Turner for some minor salary relief and a second round pick if they agreed to that. Granted, that situation isn't terrible, but you'd have to assume Sam Hinkie was intrigued by the sign-and-trade possibilities for Granger to squeeze out another pick or two or some more cash when he made this deal. If the Sixers got Granger to buy into the idea that he was showcasing himself for his next contract, he could fit well into their permanent fast-break style of offense and really pad his stats.