How much do you punish the boss? Say you have a good job, a great job, and part of that job is to maintain companywide discipline. Say one of the guys who pays your salary has messed up, badly. Say his fate is in your hands. How hard do you drop the hammer? Oh, but before you do, consider this: At the end of the day, he's still going to be one of your bosses. And, yeah, he may have a lot to say about your future. How strict are you then? Basically, this is what newbie NBA commissioner Adam Silver faces in the latest chapter of the Donald Sterling mess. He has a bigoted owner who really, really needs exiling, and who knows if he has the power to do so? To a lesser extent, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is still trying to figure out what to do with Colts owner Jim Irsay. What does a commissioner do when an owner messes up? What can he do? Talk tough? Hand out a fine? Suspend him? Force him to sell?
In the case of Sterling, racist, a mere conversation will not do. Sterling, 80, has been considered to be among the worst owners in sports for a very long time. Logic isn't going to make Sterling change the way he thinks.
A fine? That's not enough. It's only money, and basketball has helped make Sterling a rich, rich man. Rich enough, it turns out, to have paid a $2.75 million settlement to the Justice Department for running minorities out of his apartments.
A suspension? That's lame. How do you tell when an owner is suspended, anyway? Is the caviar tray off limits to him? When has suspending an owner ever worked? When has anyone noticed he's gone?
No, the only thing that will work with Sterling is to throw him out of the league.
Make no mistake. This Sterling case is a critical one for the NBA. It involves the credibility of a franchise. It involves the ability of the team to attract free agents. It involves the willingness of the players to compete for this imbecile. It involves the wisdom of the new commissioner in his first major case.
Already, Sterling's Clippers have met to discuss boycotting the playoffs. They stopped short, but they made their protest visible when they wore their warmups inside-out. You know, like Sterling's thought process.
Among the offended? Michael Jordan. Magic Johnson. Shaquille O'Neal. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Charles Barkley. LeBron James. President Barack Obama. There is a lot of power in opposition, in other words.
Sterling's ramblings, in a 10-minute phone call, chastised his ex-girlfriend for posting Instagram photos with Johnson and told her not to bring black people to games. At one point, he even pondered whether "the game'' was because of the players or the 30 owners.
Hey, Donald, here's a thought. No one ever bought a ticket to watch you own. Not that you did it particularly well.
Oh, for crying out loud. It's 2014. Do we still have to have conversations about decency? Do we still have to denounce bigotry? Who still thinks like this?
I don't know about you, but when I heard about Sterling's stupidity, I immediately thought of the rant of former Phillies manager Ben Chapman, as retold in the movie 42. Here's the difference. Chapman's spew was 67 years ago. That's how out of date Sterling's thought process is.
But here's the question: As knuckle-headed as Sterling was, as just plain wrong, does Silver have the muscle to force Sterling out of the game?
Silver: Donald, I think you should go.
Sterling: Talk to my lawyers.
Silver: It's in the best interests of the league.
Sterling: It's my team. I'm not selling.
Obviously, removing an owner is a power that a commissioner should have. But does he?
History is filled with owners who said stupid things. Marge Schott. Cal Griffith. Ted Stepien. And while Schott was suspended twice, she never was forced to sell. George Steinbrenner and Ted Turner were suspended, but they weren't forced to sell.
Will Sterling be?
They are different cases, of course. And yes, it is easier to see Irsay as more victim than villain after he was arrested with a large bag of pills.
But ask yourself this: What does more harm to the NFL? A cornerback who tests positive for Adderall? Or a man with a painkiller problem who owns a team?
This is another reason why the commissioner shouldn't be the sole judge and jury in discipline cases. It isn't for the league's protection. It's for the commissioners. Set up a three-man discipline board.
With Irsay, yeah, a long suspension to get his health in order sounds about right.
With Sterling, it's time to be a former owner.
Give him 90 days to sell.
After that, banish him to the cellar and make him watch old Clippers games. That'll teach him.