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In this Dec. 19, 2010, file photo, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, third right, sits with V. Stiviano, left, as they watch the Clippers play the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles. NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced Tuesday, April 29, 2014, that he is banning the owner for life from the Clippers organization over racist comments in recording. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok, File)

The world now knows what the NBA has to have known for 30 years: Donald Sterling is a racist.

One way or another, he had to go. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver understood that and took the proper course of action Tuesday, imposing a lifetime ban, a $2.5 million fine and a recommendation to the league's board of governors to force the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to new ownership.

This was a rare, courageous stand by a commissioner in professional sports history and re-establishes the NBA as the most socially progressive sports league in the world. The commissioner's act is even more impressive considering that he has only been on the job for three months.

But sports fans also need to remember that the NBA let its Sterling problem fester for decades.

The other owners apparently were willing to turn a blind eye because his views had yet to become public and because under Sterling, the Clippers generally were considered the laughingstock of the league, seldom making the playoffs and routinely bungling draft picks, trades and contract decisions. Why bother with them?

We may never know the extent to which former Commissioner David Stern and the 29 other league owners knew about Sterling's racism, but there were strong hints.

In 2009, the billionaire real estate mogul paid a record $2.725 million to settle a federal housing discrimination case. He was charged with routinely seeking to exclude black and Latino tenants from the properties he owned in the Los Angeles region.


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Later that year, former NBA legend Elgin Baylor, the longtime Clippers general manager, who is black, sued Sterling for wrongful termination. Baylor said that Sterling ran the Clippers franchise with a "vision of a Southern plantation-type structure," employing "poor black boys from the South" as players.

Baylor lost his lawsuit, but his claims are eerily echoed in the recording of Sterling's racial remarks that was released earlier this week.

Silver said Tuesday that Sterling admitted the voice on the recording was his. Silver said he did not know whether the Clippers' owner, who himself is an attorney, would fight the lifetime ban and the forced sale of the team.

Regardless, the league did the right thing.

Silver noted that it was the NBA that birthed the first black head coach of any major professional sport in Bill Russell. The league was also the first to have a black general manager and a black owner.

Magic Johnson reportedly is interested in buying the Clippers. The league couldn't have a better outcome than for the NBA legend and savvy businessman to take over ownership from Sterling.