NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, staring down the barrel of a playoff boycott, pulled the trigger on Clippers owner and inveterate dirtbag of long standing Donald Sterling. Eager to lap the punishment MLB laid on Marge Schott back in the day, Silver has fined Sterling $2.5M (pocket change to a guy worth 1.9 billion or so), suspended him permanently, and announced plans to force Sterling to sell the team. It's clear, it's clean, and it's a win for those of us who prefer our sports without overt and gnarly racism of the sort Sterling has been spouting for years. Never mind that, as Dave D'Alessandro pointed out, Sterling is hardly the only charmer among NBA owners, or that the NBA has for years been aware of exactly what sort of creature Sterling is and chose to hold its collective nose and do business with him as part of the cartel anyway. Bomani Jones has already laid down the best word on that subject.
Thus we venture into brave new territory, wherein a league commissioner tries to force a sale from an owner who really, really doesn't want to sell. This is a big step; volcano-lair-dwelling supervillain David Stern was never able to summon up enough legal mojo* to force Sterling out. Now Silver, relying on a well-meaning if somewhat contorted reading of one of the NBA bylaws intended to help the league consciously uncouple teams from owners who couldn't pay their bills, is going to try to do what his mentor never could. Sterling will of course lawyer up, and a sneaking suspicion remains that some of his ownership brethren are secretly hoping he wins the case. After all, if the league gets legal sanction to force him to sell, then it can potentially gain the same leverage over them. Mark Cuban's already trotted out the dreaded "slippery slope" cliche. I expect we'll hear it a lot more once Sterling's lawyers get in gear.
In the end, Sterling will be gone, which will be a good thing. He will walk away with an almost unfathomable return on his original $12M investment in the team - probably somewhere on the order of a billion dollars - much as undeserving human mulch bag Frank McCourt walked away from his brutal stewardship of the Los Angeles Dodgers with something like $2B. Sports talk yakkers can declaim all they want about how Sterling's "real" punishment is being forced out of the elite club of people who can say they own a professional sports team, but a billion bucks tends to take the edge off the sting there.
Still, he'll be gone. And that's a step. A long, ugly, slow, imperfect step, to be sure, one filled with litigation and all sorts of legal ugliness. But a step.
Hopefully the next step will be making sure that it doesn't require widespread social media embarrassment to gently nudge a league in the direction of getting rid of an owner whose views on his employees are prehistoric, or at least antebellum. And if we get really lucky, the step after that will be to stop letting owners like that in at all.
*League sources claim that the roadblock to Stern booting Sterling was in fact the other owners. Whether this is butt-covering by Stern hagiographers, the unvarnished truth, or the tip of a bigger iceberg (other owners didn't push Sterling because he had dirt on them that would cost them their teams, too) will probably never be known.