So what, if Baylor lost his suit. He's one of the greatest players of all time, and a known gentleman, and his word apparently meant nothing to Stern, or to his deputy Silver, or to many of the same fellow owners now expected to vote Sterling off their island.
"He's never been fined or suspended by the league," Silver conceded, citing the lack of a finding of culpability in court as a reason the owner was never punished. Asked how a league could ignore Baylor's charges, given the Hall of Famer's standing in the sport, Silver said those charges "concerned us greatly" and then pointed again to a scoreboard showing Baylor as the loser in that case.
Well, who's the loser now? Sure, Sterling is a miserable 80-year-old man whose public life has been destroyed, and whose bigoted beliefs landed him with the Marge Schotts, Jimmy the Greeks, and Al Campanises of his time. But Sterling is also a businessman who bought the Clippers for $12.5 million in 1981, and who might now sell them for about three-quarters of a billion dollars.
A league forever credited for its diversity allowed Sterling, the ultimate hater, to become its longest tenured owner without throwing any roadblocks in his way. So yes, the NBA lost almost as much as Sterling lost on the court -- his Clippers won 37.1 percent of their games, the worst record in major North American team sports -- and in his taped conversations with his much younger girlfriend.
"The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful," Silver said. "That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage."
Through the tremors in his voice, Silver appeared genuinely hurt and enraged that Sterling's actions "came from within" his league, inspiring his direct apology to pioneers Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, and Sweetwater Clifton, and to legends Bill Russell and Magic Johnson.
But in saying he couldn't "speak to past actions" by Sterling, and by claiming the Justice Department and Baylor cases "are the only cases that have been brought to our attention" (when there were others), Silver was likely trying to protect the man who made his career.
David Stern was always known as an ultra-demanding boss and negotiator, a commissioner who could shout down an adversary with the best of 'em, and yet he was never tough enough with Sterling. Maybe that $100 million lawsuit over the Clippers' move to L.A. scared Stern. Maybe he figured he could keep Sterling locked in his attack and just wait for him to grow old and fade away.
If so, Stern lost that gamble. He gift-wrapped the Clippers a quarterback named Chris Paul, they became a Western Conference contender, and suddenly Sterling was seen and heard climbing down from that attack, asking his girlfriend to quit posting photos of herself with black men on Instagram, and to quit bringing them to his games.
Stern's NBA didn't deserve Tim Donaghy, or Latrell Sprewell, or the Malice at the Palace, but it sure did deserve Donald Sterling. The same commissioner who fined J.R. Smith $50,000 for untying opponents' shoelaces never fined Sterling for any of his past racial remarks, according to Silver, who finally hammered Sterling with a maximum $2.5 million penalty that served Tuesday as a mere footnote.