Despite Adam Silver’s initial confidence that the owners would have his back in voting out Donald Sterling, Mark Cuban‘s recent comments brings to light how conflicted the owners may be in the vote.
The issue that voting Sterling out may create for the owners is that it sets a precedent for all the future owners. In proclaiming “we’re all prejudiced in one way or another” Cuban is revealing the inherent fear that all owners would feel if the response to Sterling’s racism is taking away his team.
Cuban admits that he is prejudice in some way and if Sterling is punished for expressing his bigotry on tape then Cuban fears the potential consequences if he happened to be taped expressing his bigotry.
Cuban’s comments are not his admitting to be as bigoted as Sterling. However, just because Cuban or any other owner is not as racist as Sterling that does not mean it is impossible for them to come across as racist in one out of context taped conversation.
This fear of people wanting to blackmail or tarnish the reputation of extraordinarily wealthy owners exists because of how focused the media and the NBA is on the tape itself.
Sterling’s reputation with housing discrimination is far more damaging and racist than anything that was said on the tape that prompted all the outrage. If the NBA did not oust Sterling before the tape when they should have been well aware of the housing discrimination, then banning him after the tape comes out suggests the only reason for the ban is the tape.
Cuban realizes the prejudice that he claims is within everyone could come across a lot worse than it actually is on an out of context tape and if Sterling is forced to sell his team because of the recording, then that sets the precedent that any other NBA owner would also be forced to sell if they are also caught on tape expressing their bigotry.
This issue could have been avoided if the NBA acted more responsively to Sterling’s housing discrimination, as ousting him for that would not have set a precedent that other NBA owners would fear. It is a lot more likely that an owner would be caught on tape expressing their prejudices than it would be for an owner to be caught in a situation as severely damaging as the housing discrimination.
Not only did Cuban reveal this fear that may be within all the NBA owners, but he also offered a rationale to not voting out Sterling. Cuban pointed out “it does my company no good, it does my customers no good […] if my response to somebody and their racism or bigotry is to say ‘it’s not right for you to be here, go take your attitude somewhere else”.
Whether or not Cuban is right in this attitude towards Sterling is besides the point. Either way it is an attitude that could allow the owners to protect themselves from setting a precedent with Sterling that could potentially threaten their status with their team. Cuban is not suggesting that he defends or condones Sterling’s actions. However, he has revealed the complexity of voting out an NBA owner, and taking the approach of “helping people engage with people they may fear” and looking to “improve their lives” instead of punishing them is more about protecting other owners in the future than helping Sterling right now.