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Coverage of Sterling story as strong as NBA play on the court

By Alan Pergament

I love the National Basketball Association.

That makes me somewhat unusual in Western New York, which has a local sports station that pretty much avoids talking about the league.

One of my proudest possessions is a Buffalo Braves cap with the team's old orange and Carolina blue colors. It constantly leads to compliments from NBA fans everywhere I go around WNY and the country.

I also admit I cried when covering the Braves exit from the NBA in a trade of teams with the owner of the Boston Celtics who ended up owning the San Diego Clippers before they became the Los Angeles Clippers.

My love of the NBA started during my childhood on Long Island in the late 1960s and early 1970s when my New York Knicks were the epitome of team basketball with a diverse group of players that included Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Dick Barnett, Bill Bradley and Dave DeBusschere.

I still love the sport as evidenced by my staying up past 1 a.m. Friday to watch the Clippers survive a game with the Golden State Warriors because of a dubious non-call on a potential game-winning shot by Stephen Curry.

I also stayed up until 1 a.m. Saturday to watch Oklahoma City survive an unusual terrible game by superstar Kevin Durant and beat the Memphis Grizzlies in overtime and tie the series at two games apiece.

Needless to say, all the terrific games that have upset my sleeping habits have taken a back seat to the racist remarks purportedly made by Clippers Owner Donald Sterling in a recording with a former girlfriend that was first obtained and carried by the website TMZ.

I don’t think I have to repeat the idiotic and outrageous remarks since they were all over the news Saturday, were addressed on the Sunday morning political talk shows, the nightly newscasts and this morning's network shows, and had the nation's First Fan, President Obama, weighing in from Asia to condemn Sterling.

I will just say hearing the alleged outrageous remarks by a NBA owner were enough to make a grown man cry.

Everybody on TV has condemned the purported remarks by the 80-year-old owner of a Clippers team led by superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin that finally seems to be in the position of competing for a NBA title.

The strongest remarks Saturday came from NBA analysts and announcers Charles Barkley, Bill Simmons, Jalen Rose, Stephen A. Smith and Ernie Johnson.

NBA great Magic Johnson, whose presence on an Instagram photo with Sterling's former girlfriend led to the alleged disgusting conversation, also weighed in Sunday afternoon on ABC'c NBA pregame show.

"He’s got to give up the team," said Johnson.

Miami Heat superstar LeBron James tweeted earlier that there is no place in the NBA for someone like Sterling, a sentiment that understandably has gotten widespread support.

The media coverage over the weekend was as strong as the play on the court.

Simmons and Smith are among those who have noted that it might not be easy for the league to get rid of Sterling. If it had been, he probably would have been gone before because these alleged remarks follow a pattern of behavior.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, a lawyer, clearly knows he and the league have to proceed quickly but with caution in case Sterling takes the league to court after its verdict. At a press conference Saturday night, Silver calmly said that Sterling deserved due process. It seemed to be a legal way of saying we want to avoid a lawsuit by not doing something before giving the owner a chance to give his side of the story if there is one.

Silver's press conference was carried live by NBA TV and ESPN2 while the defending champion Miami Heat were handing Charlotte its third straight series defeat on ESPN. That illustrated what a distraction this story already has been to a first round of the playoffs that Magic Johnson has called the best he has seen in 35 years.

I wanted someone in the media to ask Silver what the league would do if the recording was authenticated that those were Sterling's words and they weren't distorted.

No one asked.

This sad story led me to reflect on the racial advances the NBA has made since I was a teen-ager.

I'm old enough to remember when there were unofficial quotas on the number of black players on any team because some owners feared that some people wouldn't attend games if some white players weren't starting or playing.

Thankfully, those days are long gone and the NBA is the model of an equal opportunity league. As Barkley said Saturday, the NBA is a black league. He said 80 percent of the players are African-Americans. Magic Johnson put the figure at 70 percent. In any case, it is a big majority.

It hasn't hurt attendance. It hasn't hurt the league's ability to get billions from the television executives. It hasn't hurt ratings.

Indeed, I think that the great majority of Americans just admire the incredible play and don't give a thought about who is on the court anymore.

As further evidence of gains, LBJ, Griffin, Paul and several other black players are huge advertising stars. The Paul ad campaign in which he plays a twin for State Farm is on TV more than "Law & Order" reruns.

Even if the NBA isn't legally able to remove Sterling, economic realities might force him to sell.

If those words are Sterling's, it wouldn't be surprising if Clippers Coach Doc Rivers resigns after the season. Surely, he can get another job in a New York minute. I bet my Knicks -- he is a former Knick -- would love to have him if they haven't already settled on Steve Kerr.

I also wouldn't be surprised if Billy Crystal and other Clipper celebrity fans dropped their season tickets. And I can see thousands of non-celebrity Clipper fans dropping out, too.

I also can see advertisers dropping the Clippers.

Additionally, it wouldn't be shocking to see Paul, Griffin and other Clipper stars trying to force trades. It certainly will be impossible for the Clippers to get any free agents to join them. "Nobody is ever going to want to play for the Clippers again," said Johnson Sunday.

In other words, if Sterling doesn't sell, he could be watching his team's games almost by himself next season.

In a strange way, Sterling has done America a favor.

A week ago, the United States Supreme Court allowed the state of Michigan to ban Affirmative Action in the selection of college students at public colleges.

The almost unanimous outrage at Sterling's alleged comments show the advances the country has made against racism and intolerance.

But his alleged comments also remind Americans that we might not have advanced as much as we thought.

I'd love to be proved wrong about that point -- as much as I love the NBA.




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