When you sleep with dogs, you wake up with fleas.” – Benjamin Franklin

Welcome, NBA Owners, to the flea circus.

On your watch, you allowed the consistent bad behavior of a peer to continue relatively unopposed. The only real surprise of the latest Donald Sterling gaffe is that anyone would be surprised. The guy has a solid track record of buffoonery, discrimination, sexism, and racism. And yet, he’s among the most tenured of all NBA owners. Apparently, membership has it’s privileges, and they include the art of jack-assery. To boot:

  • In 1981, Sterling tried to get out of paying $1,000 to a contest-winner who hit a half-court shot at halftime.
  • In 1983, while interviewing Rollie Massimino for the Clippers head-coaching position, one of his less constructive questions was “What makes you think you can coach these n******?”
  • In contract negotiations with Danny Manning (1988), Sterling refers to him as a “poor black kid.”
  • In 2002 he makes disparaging racial remarks when describing apartment tenants whom he felt poorly represented his image….smelly, dirty, and lazy among other descriptors.
  • In 2006 he was sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for housing discrimination.
  • In 2009 he was sued by former General Manager Elgin Baylor for employment discrimination.
  • In 2010 he heckled his own players on more than one occasion.
  • His latest blunder tops the sundae; over 100 hours of recorded conversation with his nookie-girl mistress, where his racist rants have become a viral bombshell.

How does this happen?? Don’t be silly…it always happens.

My guess is anyone reading this can immediately pull up an example in their corporate life where someone was allowed to behave in a completely inappropriate manner, but seemingly suffered no real consequences for their actions. A senior leader was allowed to sweep indiscretions under the rug; sales people are allowed to behave boorishly as long as revenues are solid. Bullies tolerated despite the departure of talented and skilled underlings who could no longer tolerate the unfair treatment.

Why do we allow this to perpetuate? “We” in this sense meaning the collective population, but specifically in Human Resources, why do we allow this to happen?

So I’ll be paying attention to the events that unfold from this latest Sterling gaffe. He’s a known quantity, i.e., NBA Leadership already knew he was a racist, a sexist, a pig on feet, yet he continues to be a member of an exclusive club. His fellow NBA owners knew he was a personal disaster, but they remained silent throughout the years. The coach, Doc Rivers, knew he was going to work for a man who is on record as viewing minorities as “dirty” and “lazy.”  We can only assume that the financial rewards for tolerating Sterling have outweighed the potential discomfort with removing him.

But no one, to date, has done jack-squat to really address this man. And that, to me, is the most disappointing piece of the story.