Sterling's TV interview only makes matters worse

Instead of generating sympathy, Donald Sterling's half-hearted and rambling mea culpa only reminded NBA owners why he has to go.

Banned from the NBA for life for his vile and racist comments, Sterling's crime now is that he's bad for business. And that is every bit as deplorable to the other members of the NBA's Billionaire Boys Club as his hateful ignorance was to Commissioner Adam Silver, who kicked him out two weeks ago.

Portions of the Los Angeles Clippers owner's interview with Anderson Cooper, which airs Monday night on CNN, show Sterling is almost pathetic in his delusions. He begged other owners to show him mercy for his "one mistake … after 35 years," glossing over his long – and documented – history of unsavory and offensive behavior.

Sterling threw Magic Johnson under the bus in laughable fashion. He claimed he was "baited" into making the contemptible comments that have gotten him in so much trouble. He eventually apologized, sort of, but it was clear he was more sorry for getting caught rather than for what he said.

Perhaps most glaring, however, is the cluelessness of Sterling and his estranged wife Shelly, who did a separate weekend interview with Barbara Walters. The Sterlngs either can't or won't see they've become a drag on the NBA, making it a matter of when, not if, they are forced to sell the team they've had for 33 years.

"I'm a good member who made a mistake and I'm apologizing and I'm asking for forgiveness," Sterling told Cooper. "Am I entitled to one mistake, am I after 35 years? I mean, I love my league, I love my partners. Am I entitled to one mistake?"

In a word, no. Whether the NBA wants to admit it or not, Sterling's punishment is the disciplinary equivalent of a lifetime achievement award. His boorishness is intolerable now because the financial stakes are so high.

NBA owners are a very wealthy bunch, and they didn't get that way by picking change up off the sidewalk. They have spent their entire careers analyzing risks and rewards, their every decision driven by the bottom line.

No thanks to the Sterlings, the Clippers are currently riding a wave of goodwill that could drive their sale price as high as $1 billion. Celebrities from Oprah to Diddy to Floyd Mayweather have fallen all over themselves expressing their interest, and the team that was barely an afterthought for much of its existence in L.A. is now Hollywood's hottest ticket.

Even the sponsors are slowly coming back.

Let either of the Sterlings keep even the tiniest piece of the Clippers, however, and the team's stock will plummet faster than Johnny Manziel's on draft day.

Doc Rivers, who deserves Coach of the Decade honors for holding the Clippers together over the last 2 ½ weeks, has all but said he's gone if the Sterlings stay. Considering that his players were ready to boycott if Silver hadn't punished Donald Sterling, expect them to follow suit if they can.

And forget about finding free agents to take their place; LeBron James said Sunday that players around the league "don't feel like no one in his family should be able to own the team." Same for quality coaches and the front-office folks who keep the team afloat on a day-to-day basis.

Sponsors would find other places to spend their money, as would all but the most diehard of fans. Even they might think twice about buying season tickets for a team that could end up better suited for the D-League.

Before long, the Clippers would be an NBA team in name only. A few prospective suitors might lurk but, like the last hold-outs at a garage sale, they'd only buy if they could get a bargain.

That's just the direct effect. All the scorn and anger that's been heaped on the Sterlings would eventually spread to the other owners and the league itself, putting a blight on everyone's bottom line.

"I caused the problem," Sterling told Cooper. "I don't know how to correct it."

He can't. Sterling put the fortunes of the NBA at risk and, in the world of the other owners, that is simply unforgivable.


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