No escape route for Sterling this time

April, 26, 2014
Apr 26
2:04
PM ET
SterlingNoah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesIs it time for the NBA to take a stand on Sterling?
Despite a well-documented history of thoroughly reprehensible personal conduct, Donald Sterling has avoided serious sanction for decades in the NBA because of a sad-but-true loophole.

In general:

If you don't overtly violate league rules -- or clearly break the law -- you can dodge league discipline like Sterling always has.

But the depths of Sterling's alleged latest new low, replete with that shameful audio soundtrack provided by TMZ, slams home how painfully overdue his ouster is.

Everybody can hear it now as opposed to just reading it.

And there simply has to be a point when years and years of conduct detrimental to humanity supersedes any and all inadequacies of the system or fears of legal reprisal.

So…

If it is confirmed that the voice on the recording is Sterling's, it will be time.

Time for rookie commissioner Adam Silver and Sterling's fellow owners to step up to the plate collectively and make it clear that repeated violations of common decency -- and the damage they've done to the NBA's image -- are sufficient grounds for an indefinite suspension. Or more.

Many in the media have failed here, too. The anti-Sterling outrage has never been louder than it is this weekend, when the truth is that there have been countless missteps previously -- as my ESPN The Magazine colleague Peter Keating chronicled in 2009 -- that could and should have generated the same sort of disgust from our side of the floor.

Yet this time, with public pressure turned up to 11, there will be no respite for the NBA's widely loathed Donald if the audio is authenticated.

There have been rumblings in NBA circles for some time now that Sterling, who is believed to be 80, has been inching closer to finally walking away on his own after a three-decade run filled with sordid off-court accusations on top of all the basketball mismanagement.

But the wait for that day has undeniably reached the unbearable stage. If the NBA can't legally force him out, surely it can muster enough internal momentum -- combined with that public pressure -- to forcefully convince Sterling that he has no choice but to go through with those retirement plans once and for all. Which would clear wife Shelly to install long-rumored successor Eric Miller, Sterling's son-in-law, as the new boss.

Late, even way late, is not the same as too late.

Not when it comes to Sterling.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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