The scope of the Donald Sterling controversy is immense.
In a recording, the soon-to-be former owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers made racist remarks to his half-black girlfriend advocating her not to associate with black people. Those statements sparked public outcry and eventually led to new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver giving Sterling, 80, one of the harshest punishments in American sports history: a lifetime ban, a $2.5 million fine and an order to sell a team he has owned since 1981.
On one hand, it is a rallying cry for civil rights movements in the United States that has gained the attention of American president Barack Obama. On the other hand, it is another part of the growing issue of racism and discrimination in global sports and signals a change in the culture surrounding professional basketball.
One of the most interesting aspects will be the future of the Los Angeles Clippers. For most of Sterling’s tenure, the Clippers have been one of the worst franchises in the league and in American sports. It is only in recent years, thanks to added spending from the historically tight Sterling, that the other Los Angeles side has been able to make the public look past the Lakers. With Sterling on the way out, and many celebrities – such as Floyd Mayweather Jr., Oprah Winfrey and Oscar De La Hoya – lining up to own the club, it would seem the squad has a bright outlook.
However, the Clippers are built to win sooner rather than later and the championship window for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin is getting smaller each season. Los Angeles may be in the midst of a tough playoff run but anything less than a Western conference finals berth would be a disappointment. Head coach Doc Rivers may be one of the sharpest minds in the sport but the scandal and the ensuing aftermath could end up pushing the sideline general out of California after one season. Even if new ownership is non prejudicial, it is not a given the priority will be to field a winning squad.
Ultimately, the Sterling controversy is a stark reminder that racial discrimination pervades all parts of society. Whether it sparks positive change on and off the court remains to be seen. What the scandal has done, for better and for worse, is highlight a franchise at a crossroads.