By Julie Buehler
I was a kid, about 9. It was a gorgeous summer day and the ice cream truck came around the corner; melodiously announcing it’s arrival. My older brother and I hurdled the couch, darted outside and ran it down.
As I remember, he and I arrived at the same time, but he placed his breathless order before I could place mine.
“One Firecracker please.” It happened to be the ice cream truck’s last Firecracker.
That left me with a crappy grape popsicle.
I looked at my older brother’s delicious Firecracker, looked at my sad, purple two-pegged thing and mumbled to him, “I wanted a Firecracker…”
His response was immediate and unsympathetic, the kind of delivery that suggested he had received this same response from an authority at one time and was happily passing the wisdom to me.
“What we want and what we get are two different things,” he said smiling a red and blue smile.
Last week I wrote in this space that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a strong stance by banning Donald Sterling for life and fining him $2.5 million dollars.
The press conference lasted roughly 20 minutes as the newly anointed commissioner levied the heaviest penalty he possibly could under NBA by-laws.
And the public thought it was getting what it wanted: A resounding resolution to an emotionally charged, and nuanced controversy. The punishment was severe and breathtakingly final, or so we thought, as Commissioner Silver outlined how the NBA would seek to oust Sterling as owner by convincing the other 29 owners to vote to seize his stakes in the team.
But the reality and legality of Silver’s announcement is now being processed, digested and analyzed.
And it’s messy. Messier than a 9-year old holding a purple popsicle on a hot summer day.
Sterling’s wife came forward saying she will fight the NBA’s attempt to seize her 50% ownership. She sat down with Barbara Walters and also suggested her husband could be suffering from dementia.
New wrinkle: this could be a key in Sterling’s defense. “The most universal sign of early dementia is not memory loss, but personality change,” said Dr. Igor Galynker, associate chairman of research at Mt. Sinai Beth Israel in New York City, who has written several papers on dementia. “Two basic characteristics not related to memory are apathy and indifference or callousness. People become withdrawn and disinterested in other people to the point of being rude.”
With the NBA relying on vague language, and wide-sweeping power that could require a judge to interpret the application of the by-laws and constitution, a wrinkle such as intent, another interpretive gray area, could be key in deciding Sterling’s and the Clippers fate.
Add to an already brooding cesspool, an investigation into V Stiviano and her motives, whether she was trying to blackmail or entrap Sterling and this creates muddy waters the NBA is going to send it’s legal team swimming in.
The question deserves to be asked: Had Silver banned Sterling for a year and levied the heavy fine, would the public had received sufficient resolution without the NBA becoming embroiled in a massive legal battle.
Some people think the NBA would NOT have imposed such punishment if they hadn’t been sure it was well within their legal rights.
I’m not so confident. The NCAA, NBA, NFL, MLB and other such massive institutions often forge new paths assuming their overreaching power and vague language offers the kind of authority required. But the courts see it differently at times. Nothing is guaranteed when relying on another person’s interpretation.
Beyond 80 years of life, and having a reputation of court room battles and victories, Donald Sterling and his wife are comfortable in the type of confrontation that’s about to ensue, is the public?
The NBA continues to reassure the public that their stance is on firm legal footing, but as I learned from my older brother, what we want and what we get are two different things and when the distinction lies in the interpretation of vague, wide-sweeping language, the only thing we know we’ll get, is a mess on our hands.
Julie Buehler hosts the Coachella Valley’s most popular sports talk radio show, “Buehler’s Day Off” every day from 3-6 on 1010 KXPS, the valley’s all sports station. She’s an avid gym rat, slightly sarcastic and more likely to recite Steve Young’s career passing stats than American Idol winners. Tune in M-F 3-6 pst at www.team1010.com or watch the show on Ustream.