What if the NBA Had a Black Commissioner in 1981?

By | May 30, 2014

“They were partners. That’s the only way I look at it. They were partners. They’re complicit just like he is, because you cannot allow this man to do all this stuff, for all these years, and be held blameless. You can’t.” — Olden Polynice, former Clippers player on the NBA’s accountability in the Sterling case.

Since the TMZ/Deadspin exposure, through two nights of jaw-dropping CNN interviews and still today as each morning brings another little progress report, many have complained: “How did the NBA put up with Donald Sterling for so long before the recordings leaked?” Indeed, how did they? Let me ask the question a different way: What if in 1981, when Sterling first bought into the league, the NBA commissioner had been African-American? Would a black NBA commissioner have specially sensed exactly who Sterling was? Almost 40 years ago the NBA had arrived at precisely that racial fork in the road.

During the 1974-75 NBA season, NBA Commissioner Walter Kennedy announced he was stepping down. The league owners would select a successor soon. The African-American community was excited by the prospect of then-NBA deputy commissioner Simon Gourdine becoming the first African-American commissioner of a major North American sports league. Gourdine possessed excellent pre-NBA credentials: an Army captain in Vietnam, assistant U.S. attorney in New York, general counsel for Celanese Corporation. (Huffington Post)

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