The coverage of NBA Commissioner Alan Silver's lifetime ban of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been universally laudatory and deservingly so. Silver was clear and direct, and the punishment that he meted out was as forceful as his position would allow.
Still, in the grand scheme of things, Sterling purchased the San Diego Clippers for $12.5 million in 1981 ($35 million in 2014 dollars) before moving them to Los Angeles and now will be forced to sell them for a price that could top $1 billion. How exactly is that a punishment?
Yes, Sterling will no longer be able to enjoy the prestige that comes with being a professional sports team owner, but considering the PR hit that his image has taken over the past few days, whatever benefits that he enjoyed as a result of owning a team were inconsequential in comparison. The fact remains that if he accepts his punishment, walks away from the NBA, and sells the Clippers, he walks away with a wad of cash that is the equivalent to approximately 40% of his current net worth of $1.9 billion. In real-world terms, that cannot even be called a slap on the wrist. If anything, it is more akin to a slap and tickle.
But what else could Silver have done? Absolutely nothing. The NBA's constitution, like the constitution of most other professional sports leagues, allows teams to be bought and sold at market prices, even when such transactions are made under duress.
The NBA and other professional sports leagues need to consider a rule change that would enable the league to reclaim a team from an owner who has violated league rules and/or embarrassed the league in question to the degree that Sterling has at a cost equal to what an owner spent to purchase the team plus any subsequent personal investments made in the team, plus an estimate of the opportunity cost of this money during this period of time.
The league and not the owner would then be able to reap the profit incurred from the sale of the team on the open market, which in turn could be donated to charity or reinvested into projects or programs geared toward serving the greater good. Somehow, some way, the league should be able to prevent the offending owner from profiting from his damaging actions or words.
However, a rule change like this is not likely to happen. Even with the outcry from sports fans and advertisers, it's not in the owners' best interest, and they're the ones who would make such a rule. Regardless of whether a rule change such as this is possible, it should not be outside the realm of what the public should demand of the professional sports leagues that depend on their dollars for their existence.
As is, it will be quite an impressive feat if Silver is able to produce a unanimous vote to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.
Unfortunately, attention spans are very short and by most accounts, the punishment that has been leveled against Sterling has been perceived as being far greater than what anyone going into the recent press conference might have expected. It is unlikely that there will many voices arguing that it was insufficient even when he cashes his massive check.