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Opinion | More than a game: Sterling, Silver show America and the world why sports matter

Reis’ Pieces

By Reis Thebault
On May 1, 2014

It's just a game. That's what I tell myself when OSU beats Michigan or when the Red Wings lose in the first round. Whatever, it's just a game. And, I'm right. Well, most of the time I'm right. But sports have this power, this mystique that only fans can understand. Sometimes they transcend the win/loss columns, the rankings and the stat sheets.

Even in the NBA - a league many see as superficial - certain things that happen have an oddly purifying effect; stuff like Tuesday's ruling cuts through the nonsense and reminds us why sports matters.

Last Friday night, TMZ released a recording of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, a controversial man even before this, talking to his girlfriend V. Stiviano. The two were fighting. Sterling was lecturing Stiviano, nearly 50 years his junior, about the importance of distancing herself from black people.

The backlash was swift and condemning, from President Obama to Michael Jordan, across sports and political spheres.

The Clippers team protested their owner's ignorance, warming up for their playoff game wearing red shirts inside out, hiding the team logo. Magic Johnson - to whom Sterling referred directly in his recorded rant - vowed to never attend another Clippers game as long as Sterling was the owner.

While it is not surprising to finally hear proof of Sterling's racism - he has been accused several times - it is astounding this is the first instance in which the league has acted.

Tuesday, Adam Silver, the relatively green NBA commissioner announced his much-anticipated decision regarding the Sterling tape.

"Effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA," Silver said at a press conference.

He tacked on the maximum $2.5 million fine for good measure. Silver said two-thirds majority of the league's owners will need to agree to force Sterling to sell the Clippers. Silver is confident the votes will come. As he was talking, it was easy to see Silver's genuine emotion.

"This has been a painful moment for all members of the NBA family," he said.

You could see he was hurt. Angry, too. Roughly three months into his tenure as commissioner, this was a pivotal moment. Silver came through and did all he could. It was the right move, the only move.

Racism can never be tolerated and especially not in the NBA - one of the world's most diverse sports leagues. Nearly 80 percent of the league's players and 45 percent of its coaches - including the Clippers' own Doc Rivers - are African-American.

"Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural and multi-ethnic league," he said.

Just as the world convicted Sterling, it supported Silver.

LeBron James tweeted: "Commissioner Silver thank you for protecting our beautiful and powerful league!! Great leader!!"

Magic Johnson echoed, among countless others, echoed these sentiments.

"Commissioner Silver showed great leadership in banning LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life," Johnson tweeted.

Sterling's comments alarmed me; they upset me. Silver's response was swift and just. And it restored my faith in the NBA.

Sure, basketball is just a game. And, truthfully, I'm not even a diehard fan. But I can tell when a sport becomes more than players, a court and a ball. The league and its fans united against Sterling and in support of Silver and the Clippers. In doing so, they helped show a cynical fan the beauty of sports.


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