The NBA must tread carefully. There are immediate solutions to the firestorm created by the release of voice mails from Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to his former girlfriend, but to attempt to resolve the issue permanently, without due process, may work to the detriment of everyone trying to do the right thing.

For those who weren’t paying attention over the weekend, media outlets released recordings of Sterling admonishing his former girlfriend for associating with African Americans and Hispanics, telling her never to bring minorities to his games again. In a second tape released yesterday his comments became more explosive. Among the specifics that touched off Sterling’s outburst was a “selfie” she took with former Lakers star and Los Angeles Dodgers owner Magic Johnson, who said he will never attend a Clippers game again and called on the NBA to investigate the matter and “Come down hard on Sterling”, saying that Sterling shouldn’t be allowed to own a team.

Michael Jordan, the only African American owner in the NBA, also weighed in, saying he’s disgusted and outraged by Sterling’s comments. The Clippers players had difficulty coming to terms with comments made by their owner and before yesterdays first round playoff game with the Warriors in Oakland they showed their outrage by wearing black arm bands in protest and turning their pre game warm-up jerseys inside out to cover the team logo.

Protests and demonstrations are planned outside the Staples center tomorrow night, when the series returns to Los Angeles, where the NAACP has removed Sterling’s name from a list of recipients to be honored for their work in minority communities. Sterling earned his fortune in real estate development, much of it with low income, minority housing.

Adam Silver has been on the job as NBA commissioner for less than three months and his first major confrontation since succeeding David Stern will not be an easy one. The tapes of Sterling are very damning and the man has a history of making such charged comments that only indicates he should not be excused because of his age. It’s a greater indication that little advanced wisdom has come with his 81 years and, maybe, a leopard doesn’t change his spots. It would behoove the NBA to defuse the situation before tomorrow night’s game, but any action should be taken judiciously.

Sterling cannot be removed as owner of the team before tomorrow night, even, in all likelihood, before the end of the playoffs, but as the investigation goes on, including validation that it is indeed Sterling’s voice on the tapes and that they haven’t been doctored, he can be ordered to stay hands off and stay away. An alternate governor and team president is already in place to handle day to day operations in the person of Andy Roeser, while coach Doc Rivers is his own senior vice president of basketball operations with Gerald Madkins as director of basketball operations. If one thing can be said in Sterling’s defense, it’s that he put together a competent team that can weather a storm of his own brewing.

If the investigation reveals that Sterling indeed made the comments he’s alleged to have made the process for selling the team can begin. There is precedent, with the New Orleans Pelicans, for the NBA itself to assume ownership of a team for the purpose of finding a new owner. This could be a reasonable conclusion to this situation, in order to have Sterling out as an owner by the beginning of next season, preferably in time for the June draft.

To act decisively as an all at once knee-jerk might not be to act judiciously. Not to act would be an injustice to all.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.


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