Donald Sterling is finished as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. It’s simple: Players won’t play for him. More than a dozen sponsors have already bolted in fast break fashion. And fan boycotts will begin as soon as the playoffs end, if not sooner.
There is no crisis communications plan, no apology, no talking points that can repair the damage created by the reprehensible, racist comments attributed to him on the audio recording that went public last Saturday.
New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will do the right thing and come down as hard as league bylaws allow. Expect there to be an indefinite suspension and removal from any involvement with the team along with the maximum $1 million fine.
The debate has shifted to a legal one and the experts seem to think NBA owners cannot force Sterling to sell the team that he bought for $12 million in 1981.
There is one thing Sterling could do to exit the stage with a shred of dignity: He could volunteer to sell the team and place the expected $550 million in profits into a charitable trust to be administered by an independent board that would award grants and make donations to programs that provide educational and athletic opportunities for minorities and foster racial understanding.
For Donald Sterling, the game is over. His comments make him an unfit owner. He must go, but he does have a choice. He can sue the NBA to keep the team and be remembered only as a racist. Or he can go out in a way that could help thousands of people.
As much as Americans enthusiastically give second chances (to those who show sincere remorse) and as much as we love comeback stories, for Sterling, restoring his good name is highly unlikely, especially given his sketchy track record.
But reputation recovery is all about action and advancing the conversation. A bold move to sell the team and donate the proceeds to the very people he hurt – as far-fetched as it is – would at least add a positive postscript to Sterling’s otherwise pathetic ending.