NBA spent years looking other way

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Give credit where it's due. In throwing Donald Sterling out of the NBA for life, commissioner Adam Silver is exercising his powers as broadly as his job description will allow, and appropriately so.

But what took so long?

The most shocking thing about NBA Nation's reaction to the recordings of Sterling's racist rants is how many owners, players, media analysts and fans claimed they were shocked by his words. Evidence of Sterling's reprehensible behavior has been public for years, and the fact that he survived long enough to become the league's longest-tenured owner shows just how many people willed themselves into ignorance of his deeds.

Sterling, who made his fortune in Los Angeles-area real estate, was sued by a group of tenants who said that he wanted no blacks, no Mexican-Americans, no children and no recipients of subsidized housing in his buildings. And that to drive away such undesirables, Sterling's employees harassed them with surprise inspections and threatened them with eviction, stopped doing repairs, even refused rent checks and then claimed that tenants hadn't paid. Sterling settled their lawsuit with a payment that a U.S. District Court judge called "one of the largest ever obtained in this type of case." That was in 2005. Sterling also made the largest payment ever to the Justice Department in a separate federal housing discrimination case -- in 2009.

When ESPN The Magazine obtained depositions in lawsuits against Sterling, the details were horrifying. "That's because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they're not clean," he said about the odor in one of his new acquisitions, according to the testimony of Sumner Davenport, one of his property supervisors. He told the head of security at another building, "I don't like Mexican men because they smoke, drink and just hang around the house," according to that man's testimony. Multiple employees noted his preference for Korean-born employees and tenants; he jovially asserted, "they will take whatever conditions I give them and still pay the rent," according to Davenport. (Davenport also sued Sterling for sexual harassment, and lost that case in 2005.) We first printed these quotes in June 2009.

Around that time, Elgin Baylor, who worked as a Clippers executive from 1986 to 2008, filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against the team. Baylor, the NBA Executive of the Year in 2006, alleged that Sterling wanted a white coach for the Clippers, and that he repeatedly said he was "giving these poor black kids an opportunity to make a lot of money." In 2011, a jury rejected Baylor's suit, but although you can blame his loss on taking Sterling's money for more than two decades, it's hard to see him as less credible than Sterling, who claimed on the witness stand that he hadn't even known Baylor was a Hall of Famer when he hired the 11-time All-Star.

Who supported Baylor against Sterling? Not the National Basketball Players Association, who had no comment about the owner who tried to emasculate one of its most legendary members. And not the local chapter of the NAACP, which actually gave Sterling a lifetime achievement award in 2009 and planned to give him another one this year, until scandal struck. (Sterling is a donor.)

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