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Fouling out ... at last

Published April 30. 2014 4:00AM

The National Basketball Association's decision Tuesday to ban Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the game for life, force him to sell the team and impose a maximum fine of $2.5 million after a recording of a racist rant attributed to the disgraced businessman was released to the media may be fittingly harsh punishment, but it hardly puts the despicable and tawdry episode to rest.

So while we applaud NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for acting swiftly and decisively, a foul stench lingers, particularly with regard to how Mr. Sterling's apparent flaws were overlooked for so long.

The Los Angeles Times reports that in 2009 Mr. Sterling, who earned a fortune in real estate, paid $2.73 million to settle U.S. government claims that he refused to rent his apartments to Latinos and blacks in L.A.'s Koreatown neighborhood. That same year NBA legend Elgin Baylor, an African-American, accused Mr. Sterling of racism and the Clipper organization of having "a plantation mentality" when he was ousted as general manager.

ESPN the Magazine also published an article then that quoted depositions from two lawsuits filed against Mr. Sterling in 2005 for housing discrimination and sexual harassment, in which he said an odor was "because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they're not clean."

The deposition also notes that when an elderly black tenant who was disabled and legally blind complained that flooding in the building had damaged her possessions, Mr. Sterling used a vulgar expression in demanding the woman's eviction.

But throughout that period Mr. Sterling had been a prominent donor to the NAACP and ran newspaper ads touting his generosity to the black community, which prompted the civil rights organization to present him with a lifetime achievement humanitarian award in 2009. The Los Angeles NAACP had been discussing additional donations and was preparing to present Mr. Sterling a second such award next month when the shocking recording was posted on the gossip website TMZ.

Only then did the NAACP, and many others, distance themselves.

Mr. Sterling is not the first sports franchise owner, though, to lose a team because of vile remarks.

In the 1990s Marge Schott, owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, was forced out after a variety of transgressions, including using the n-word to describe her players, hanging a Nazi swastika in her home and telling The New York Times, "Hitler was good in the beginning, but he went too far."

Mr. Sterling's world began to implode when his former girlfriend, identified only as V. Stiviano, posted an Instagram photo of herself posing with Lakers great Magic Johnson, an African-American. She then recorded what most believe is Mr. Sterling exploding, "In your lousy (expletive deleted) Instagrams, you don't have to have yourself with - walking with black people." The voice on the recording then ordered her not to bring black people to his games.

The mysterious Ms. Stiviano, incidentally, is being sued by Mr. Sterling's wife, Rochelle, who is hoping to reclaim at least $1.8 million in cash and gifts that her husband allegedly provided the woman, including a Ferrari, two Bentleys and a Range Rover.

Mr. Silver has been commissioner only since February, but for years the league, sponsors, fans and even players and coaches - many of whom are African-American - apparently were willing to look the other way because of one color: green.

A professional sports franchise brings in hundreds of millions of dollars to a wide range of individuals, corporate sponsors, communities and various organizations. Nobody wants to call a foul, or even a time out.

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