Leadership

NBA Players Look to Bench Amid Donald Sterling Crisis

The NBA's racism scandal involving Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling caught the National Basketball Players Association at a time of upheaval. The players union, lacking an executive director, asked a former star to play offense.

The NBA’s racism scandal involving Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling caught the National Basketball Players Association at a time of upheaval. The players union, currently lacking an executive director, asked a former star to play offense.

UPDATE: Since this story was published, the NBA took action on Donald Sterling, fining him the maximum $2.5 million, banning him for life from the NBA, and announcing that the league would force him to sell the Clippers. After a short investigation, it was found that Sterling did make the remarks captured on an audio recording by his girlfriend. The NBA Players Association will play an active role in this process, helping to choose anti-discrimination charities where Sterling’s fine will go. The text below reflects an earlier version of the story.

It’s apparent that, whatever happened, it’s pretty bad.

As the National Basketball Association grapples with a scandal surrounding Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA)—the NBA’s players union—is working with the league to ensure that appropriate sanctions are implemented against Sterling if it’s confirmed that he made racist statements to his girlfriend.

But the timing and circumstances are less than ideal: The NBPA has lacked an executive director since February 2013, when the union ousted Billy Hunter over a leadership scandal.

On top of this, the NBPA’s current president, Chris Paul, is directly affected by the Sterling situation, as he’s the captain of the Clippers and one of the team’s best-known players.

Even with those challenges, the association is responding. Here’s how.

A Reserve Steps In

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, NBPA’s chairman and a former player who spent most of his career with the Phoenix Suns, announced over the weekend that he would expand his role with the union.

According to an NPBA press release, Johnson, who is also leading a search for a new executive director, was recruited by Paul.

“There needs to be an immediate investigation, and if the reports are true, there needs to be strong and swift action taken,” Johnson said. “I have spoken with NBPA President Chris Paul and will be leading the NBPA in addressing the implications of this serious matter.”

In his official role as NBPA head, Paul was one of the few Clippers players to speak publicly about the story; the team has asked the players not to comment on it. While saying the association will address the issue “aggressively,” he asked the players not to let the Sterling situation distract them from their jobs.

“As players, we owe it to our teams and our fans to keep our focus on our game, the playoffs, and a drive to the finals,” Paul said.

Pushing for Action

Johnson got to work quickly, meeting with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Sunday and holding a press conference, in which he said the players association wants to ensure due process while acting quickly.

“We are all committed to due process, and I think what we’re all struggling with right now is how do we not get too hasty, a rush to judgment,” Johnson said. “On the same token, we can’t approach this with any hesitancy. And that’s the balance that we’re all trying to strike. I think the commissioner—and if you think of the NBA in the past, it usually makes decisions really, really quickly—and I don’t anticipate this being any different.”

In comments reported by Politico, Johnson said he was compelled to act at the players’ collective urging and because of the need to allow Paul and his teammates to focus on the playoffs.

“This is a defining moment in the history of the NBA,” Johnson said.

Clippers star Chris Paul, right, the president of the National Basketball Players Association. (photo by Keith Allison/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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