Sports

Schmeelk: Only Players, Fans, Sponsors Can Truly Punish Donald Sterling

An NBA fan (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) and Clippers star Chris Paul  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) protest against Donald Sterling.

An NBA fan (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) and Clippers star Chris Paul (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) protest against Donald Sterling.

By John Schmeelk
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For the past few days, everyone has been focused on the hate behind the words attributed to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, and understandably so. The outrage has been universal and appropriate.

But now the hard part comes. On Tuesday, the NBA will dole out what will no doubt be a stiff penalty for the racist remarks that became public over the weekend.

Here’s the problem: nothing the league can do will be enough.

Despite the cries of many, Sterling will still be the owner of the Clippers at the start of Game 5 of the Clippers’ playoff series against the Golden State Warriors. The franchise, whether people like it or not, is his property and the league doesn’t have the power to strip him from it.

That said, only the public and the market can truly punish Sterling.

The NBA could fine him millions and suspend him from the team’s basketball operations, but those penalties wouldn’t truly hurt Sterling. He’d still collect revenue from the team’s activities. It might actually benefit the team to have their truly inept owner out of the picture for a time. The players won’t help anything by boycotting their playoff games. They would only be hurting themselves and the fans, both of which have so much invested in the season. The fans not showing up won’t do much to punish Sterling either, since the tickets are already paid for.

(By the way, it was pretty disingenuous for Mark Jackson to suggest all fans boycott Game 5. Coincidentally that would also eliminate the Clippers’ home-court advantage. I didn’t hear him tell Warriors fans to stay home and boycott Game 4.)

What would truly hurt Sterling? Fans not renewing their season tickets. Players refusing to sign with the Clippers. Doc Rivers leaving the team and coaching elsewhere. Already sponsors are pulling out of their relationship with the Clippers, another way the market works to punish someone like Donald Sterling.

That’s how you hit him in his wallet, and in his ego. Sterling’s team wouldn’t make money, and they wouldn’t win games.

It’s going to happen.

I’m sure Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA will do a great job today and punish Sterling to the extent of their powers. But in the end they can’t give people what they want: Sterling out of the league.

That can only happen through a concerted effort of fans, players and coaches punishing the Clippers owner by exercising their freedom of choice.

That’s how change happens, through the people in a society and the marketplace. Not from fiat from above.

It has worked before. And it’ll work with Donald Sterling.

Follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.

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