The Sterlings are gone. The NBA and a Microsoft billionaire sent the couple into permanent retirement with a king’s ransom, and they leave the league with two reputations: Shelly’s and Donald’s.
They are as different as lightning and a lightning bug.
For we have spent the past six months demonizing Donald Sterling, and if anyone deserved to be a demon, he was that person. He proved he was the worst kind of human: vulgar, cheap, greedy, insensitive – you select the adjective.
His excesses in life brought us to anger, because we come to expect more from men who own NBA teams.
Yet we forget one thing: His ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers was a flawed partnership with his wife Shelly, and Shelly Sterling, despite how she’s being portrayed these days, was the devil in Prada that her estranged husband was. She was there all along as he ran the Clippers with a cavalier disregard for anything except big profit.
He cared not a bit that the Clippers were the laughingstock of sports franchises. He didn’t care that they played understudy to the Los Angeles Lakers for more than 30 years. None of that meant a thing to Donald Sterling, so it meant not a thing to Shelly Sterling.
Through all of this mediocrity and its maddening drama, she’s come away as a hero of some sort. Steve Ballmer, who bought the team for a record $2 billion, has given her the title of “owner emeritus” and he’s anointed her “Clippers No. 1 Fan.”
Ballmer must be delusional. He gave Shelly Sterling this symbolic title, a dozen season tickets (two courtside) and VIP parking passes.
Obviously, Ballmer was so giddy over finally getting the reins of the franchise that he’d forgotten why the team was for sale in the first place. Had Shelly and Donald Sterling handled things better, they would still co-own the Clippers.
The NBA wanted nothing to do with Donald Sterling, a man often called the most odious owner in professional sports history. It should have been just as eager to get rid of Shelly Sterling.
For if anything, she’s the remaining link to the Sterling era, and it is a connection the NBA should do nothing to maintain. More to the point, she had as much extra baggage on the racism front as Donald Sterling.
While she’s tried to distance herself from her husband and his hateful speech, she cannot. Court records showed Shelly Sterling has hardly been the Mother Teresa that the NBA and some media have made her out to be. In many ways, she’s no better than the man she used to bed.
To dwell too much on the Sterlings now is to waste time. They are riding off into sports history with a satchel packed with Microsoft money, and they should live life well because of it.
We should not twist this fact into a maudlin tale of noble sacrifice, which seems to be the way this narrative is being spun. For the reality of it is simpler: The NBA is better off without any Sterling in its game.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)