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Former NBA Commissioner David Stern receives the key to the city from ex-NBA player and current Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Kevin Johnson during an NBA game between the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings Oct. 30, 2013, in Sacramento.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

NBA ‘DEFINING MOMENT’: LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS OWNER STERLING MUST GO

The News: The union that represents National Basketball Association players has demanded that Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling receive the “maximum” penalty for racist comments recently attributed to him, starting with a suspension for the remainder of the playoffs.

“The players are not going to sit on the sidelines and allow decisions to be made and sanctions to come down without weighing in,” Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA player who is advising the NBA Players Association, said Sunday. “We believe that this is a defining moment for the league; it’s a defining moment for the [NBA] commissioner.”

Johnson said that if the remarks are confirmed to have come from Sterling, the players want the NBA to provide “a full accounting of the prior accusations of racism” made against the Clippers owner and reasons the NBA did not take action.

Meanwhile, Sterling’s players participated in a silent protest against the alleged remarks before the start of Sunday’s Game 4 of the Western Conference playoff series against the Golden State Warriors. But the controversy appeared to distract the Clippers from the start, as they lost badly.

The Take: Let’s dispel the manufactured mystery over what punishment awaits the NBA’s X-rated version of Cliven Bundy. Sterling will be suspended for the remainder of the playoffs, fined up to the $1 million maximum and probably banned for part or all of next season.

Will the NBA force Sterling to sell his team? Speculation abounds. My friend and ESPN host Jemele Hill told MSNBC that the effort is under way, not unlike Major League Baseball’s 1999 ouster of Cincinnati Reds’ spectacularly racist owner Marge Schott.

Sterling is a sleazy, slumlording, misogynistic racist who should be forced out of the NBA. He has sucked out handsome profits while leaving a husk of a team that ruined the careers of players and team executives and cheated fans of a return on their investment of money and support.

But I'm not counting on the NBA to slay a dragon it helped raise.

The NBA backed down from imposing the full $25 million penalty when Sterling relocated the Clippers from San Diego. The NBA ignored years of his racist commentary directed at his own players. The NBA stood by as he ran a black team executive and black coaches (Hall of Fame members among them) out on a rail.

He was the NBA’s crazy uncle, a laughingstock who owned the worst franchise in professional sports. It was easy for the NBA community to keep mum, as an ESPN writer explained:

The NBA Players Association has no comment on Sterling as a team owner or a landlord ... As for prominent former Clippers … nearly all declined on-the-record comment …. In part, this is because players are trained never to forgo an earning opportunity, and where's the upside in poking the eye of an owner? But talk with enough athletes off the record, and you also get the sense that many pros feel they have more in common with team owners than tenants [who sued Sterling].

Why now is everyone paying attention? Because the Clippers are winning.

They aren’t winning because Sterling suddenly got better at his job but because the NBA inexplicably rewarded its sorriest and most reprehensible owner with superstar guard Chris Paul. The talent infusion lured a championship coach, in Doc Rivers, and in just two seasons the Clippers have become a top team.

Sterling’s enabler throughout was NBA Commissioner David Stern, who has retired. Kevin Johnson is right about this being a defining moment for the NBA and its new commissioner, Adam Silver. In his first big test, Silver will decide whether to uphold this shameful part of his mentor’s legacy or purge the Clippers, and to some degree the entire NBA, of its plantation mentality.

For a history of Sterling’s racist and offensive remarks, read here.

Corey Dade, an award-winning journalist based in Washington, D.C., writes The Take and is a contributing editor at The Root. He appears on MSNBC and CNN and contributes to NPR. He is a former NPR correspondent and political reporter at the Wall Street Journal. Give him your “take” on Twitter.