If you’re a long-time basketball fan, there’s probably no real need for me to lay out the case that Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers franchise, is a John Derbyshire-level racist.
For NBA fans, this knowledge is old news. Five years ago, the federal government fined him over $2 million for real-estate-mogul Sterlings corporate policy of refusing to rent apartments to blacks or hispanics. Hall of Fame coach Rollie Massimino refused to take a job leading the Clippers during the Showtime era when Sterling, drunk as a skunk, asked him to describe how he would coach his “n**gers.” Like most NBA owners, Sterling shows up for most of his teams home games; unlike most NBA owners, Sterling has a reputation of keeping his distance from his own players, not out of respect but rather from distaste. Throughout all of this, however, the NBA has maintained the stance that since Sterling is a franchise owner they have no way to take any punitive actions against him.
But now they have no choice.
This morning the website TMZ published a recording of Sterling dressing down his girlfriend, model V. Stiviano, for associating with blacks in public, bringing black friends to games, and publishing a photo on Insagram of herself with Laker legend Magic Johnson — allegedly because Johnson himself is black. The entire recording can be heard here, but notable quotes from it include the following:
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?… You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games… I’m just saying, in your lousy f**king Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people… Don’t put [Magic Johnson] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.”
It’s telling that in their response to the tape, the Clippers organization aren’t really denying that it is Sterling, but rather are claiming that “what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings.” And, of course, he is making the obligatory apology to “anyone who might have been hurt.” Ex-Clipper players such as Baron Davis are already coming forward to say publicly that this type of behavior is nothing new, and, not surprisingly, Johnson has already come out and said publicly that he will never set foot in another Clipper game while Sterling remains the owner.
The bottom line is this: The Clipper organization simply cannot continue as an NBA franchise with Donald Sterling as the owner. Period.
Believe me when I say that there is no one that wanted Donald Sterling to be an NBA owner for life more than I.
I was raised in L.A. and was, am, and always will be a die-hard Laker fan, and there is no team in all of sports I hate more than the Clippers. Sterling bought the Clippers largely to show up his real estate rival Jerry Buss, the Lakers owner, and proceeded to run the worst franchise in pro sports history. It was so bad that over the years it became part of my self-identity to root against them.
In the Showtime Era, the Clippers symbolized for certain LA b-ball fans what the Boston Celtics of that same era were for some much of white America: the last bastion against the all-black team. Every year they had a good draft pick, and every year they squandered it. On those occasions when they found themselves, almost accidentally, with a quality roster with budding stars, they seemed to go out of their way to force the stars out and break up team chemistry. And the reason they were terrible, year in and year out, was because they had the worst owner in all of sports. Indeed, reports on TNT seem to indicate that the entire reason the tape is being released at all is due to Sterling’s non-careful practice of repeatedly picking up, surrounding himself, and then legally threatening they type of women my mother would have referred to as “bimbos.” Sure, the Clippers are enjoying an exciting renascence for the moment with their current roster, but it bears noting that it took the League commissioner stepping in, nixing a trade for perennial all-star Chis Paul to the Lakers and forcing Paul to the Clippers to try and achieve parity.
So believe me when I say I love hating Donald Sterling. I don’t hate many things in life, and so I cherish this hate. When Sterling sinks his own ship (which he always does) it warms my heart. Had this news not broken this morning, I would have been in favor of putting Donald Sterling in cryogenic freezing and waking him only to make basketball decisions, so that he might go on delighting me with his incompetence for decades to come. But now this news has hit, and it’s time for the NBA to take steps to make sure that Sterling sells his team at the end of the 2013-14 season this summer.
The NBA is a league dominated by African Americans. The vast majority of the players fans pay to see are black, and the vast majority of up-and-coming coaches and execs are as well. No other industry in America makes its white owners money as visibly on the backs of an almost-all-black work force as the NBA. The League simply cannot allow an owner to be caught on tape making such statements and continue to do business with that same owner.
Moreover, the Clippers and their fans (I can’t believe I’m about to say this) deserve better. Despite his incompetence, Sterling’s current team has the potential of a promising future with a foundation of Paul, Blake Griffin, coach Doc Rivers, and a solid group of quality role players. It’s going to be difficult in light of this recording to keep many on those pieces, if any. Worse, it will be impossible to draw new young talent to the organization in future contract years. The Clippers were always going to eventually implode under Sterling, but it’s not fair to see them implode for this.
Sterling will never willingly walk away on his own steam; he’s just not that self-aware. So it’s up to the League to do what I already know they aren’t going to want to do. But do it they must. Better if they can put his metaphorical arm behind his back and force him to announce his “voluntary” retirement. If not, though, they need to take whatever action is necessary.
The NBA needs to fire Donald Sterling.