The story of an egregious racist: in re Donald Sterling

I’m assuming everyone, even non-basketball fans, has heard of the incident involving Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. In case you missed it, or if you need to review them, here are the links which cover not only the most recent development, but further insight into Mr. Sterling’s history:

Mr. Sterling’s history as a businessman, both as an NBA team owner and otherwise, has been peppered with several “black mark” incidents of discrimination. Perhaps the most egregious of them was what he said to Rollie Massimino way back in 1983: “I wanna know why you think you can coach these n#$%&#s.” To truly understand this quote, though, it should be seen in context. From the Jeff Pearlman article:

Anyhow, according to [Paul] Phipps [the LA Clippers’ GM at the time], Massimino boarded the jet, and when he landed in Los Angeles he exited the walkway and spotted Sterling. “They met,” said Phipps, “and between 3 and 4 in the morning my phone rings.” It was an irate Massimino. “I’m sorry,” he told Phipps, “but I’d never work for that son of a bitch. Ever.” “Here’s this guy,” Massimino said, “and he has this blonde bimbo with him, they have a bottle of champagne, they’re tanked. And Don looks at me and he says, ‘I wanna know why you think you can coach these n#$%&#s.’” Massimino told Phipps he began screaming at Sterling and swore he’d rather die than become coach of the Clippers. “That,” said Phipps, “was life with Donald Sterling.”

Unfortunately, as state previously, this was in 1983, so it would have been much more difficult for Rollie to have recorded this conversation than it would be today even if he had had the foresight to do so. However, I honestly don’t think either Paul or Rollie have any reason to wantonly defame Mr. Sterling in a tortious manner (i.e. tell a complete lie, especially one which could easily result in a lawsuit). So I’m going to assume the story is more or less true the way it was told. The reason almost nobody heard about it is that no media outlet would report this without running a very real risk of getting sued and the almost unending stream of problems (bad PR, losing advertisers, otherwise great employees quitting) that comes with such a high-profile lawsuit. It’s all hearsay, and it wouldn’t hold up in a court of law.

That said, especially in light of things that have happened since, I believe it. In 2002, Mr. Sterling’s comments to the manager of an apartment included this rather nasty line, regarding a female tenant by the name of Kandynce Jones: “I am not going to do that [reimburse a female tenant for damage caused by a defective refrigerator]. Just evict the bitch.” Mr. Sterling also asked regarding Kandynce: “Is she one of those black people that stink?”

This is consistent with statements Mr. Sterling made to the same manager when he was buying the property previously: “That’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean, [a]nd it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day. So we have to get them out of here.” And it’s also consistent with this prejudicial statement Mr. Sterling made to another property manager: “I like Korean employees and I like Korean tenants… I don’t have to spend any more money on them, they will take whatever conditions I give them and still pay the rent…so I’m going to keep buying in Koreatown.” In fact at one point, Mr. Sterling even changed the name of a complex to “Korean World Towers” and had a banner printed entirely in Korean hung on the building. He also had Korean-born armed guards who were ordered to be hostile to people not of Korean origin. But it gets even worse, per this tidbit from the ESPN: The Magazine article:

When it comes to female subordinates in his real estate business, Sterling shows a distinct racial preference. In 2003 he had 74 white employees, four Latinos, zero blacks and 30 Asians, 26 of them women, according to his Equal Employment Opportunity filings with the state of California. (The numbers are similar for the other years in which Sterling has been charged with racial discrimination.)

Fast forward to 2006 August. The US Department of Justice sued Mr. Sterling for housing discrimination prohibited by the Fair Housing Act. Despite attempts to obstruct the legal process  (which were noticed and commented on by Judge Dale S. Fischer during the settlement) Mr. Sterling eventually settled the suit for a fine of $2.73 million, plus attorney’s fees and costs in the total of $4,923,554.75. In 2009, Mr. Sterling was sued by Elgin Baylor for employment discrimination, noting that “the Caucasian head coach was given a four-year, $22 million contract” while Elgin’s salary was frozen at $350,000 since 2003. In the lawsuit, Elgin claims Mr. Sterling said he wanted to fill his team with “poor black boys from the South and a white head coach.”

And Mr. Sterling’s conduct goes beyond racism, to just plain anti-social conduct in general. At one point, disclosed in a New York Post interview from 2012, Baron Davis talks about when he played for the Clippers (between 2008 and 2011) and was heckled by Mr. Sterling during practice. Mr. Sterling would “cuss at [Baron] and call him an idiot.” Do any other NBA owners do lame crap to their players like this? I doubt it.

And now, fast forward to 2014 April. Mr. Sterling is caught on tape telling his mistress not to bring “black people to his games.” This comment, and other comments like it in the audio TMZ published, got him a lifetime ban from NBA professional basketball and a $2.5 million fine as announced this past Tuesday. It also got several corporate sponsors of LA Clippers to drop the team like a hot potato.

Officially, according to the press conference, NBA commissioner Adam Silver is only banning Mr. Sterling due to the most recent incident. In fact the commissioner specifically said “I cannot speak to past actions” regarding the fact that little, if anything, was done during the tenure of David Stern as NBA commissioner. Unofficially, though, it’s quite possible that Mr. Sterling’s checkered past regarding discrimination incidents played at least a supporting role.

I don’t see the logic in Mr. Sterling continuing to own and make money off of a team in a league where the majority of players are men of color and which is a rather large part of hip-hop culture, when clearly he has a problem with both people of color and Latinos (the two groups which started hip-hop culture in the 1970s). Who in their right mind just drops the N-bomb like that, “tanked” or not, when talking to a stranger? Just how hypocritical is it to say “blacks… smell [and] are not clean” on one hand, and make money hand over fist off of the efforts of black people on the other?

I have been a basketball fan on and off over the past decade or so (both NBA and WNBA; I still miss the Houston Comets). I recognize the NBA is connected strongly to hip-hop culture, more so than any other sport or even other basketball leagues such as the WNBA. While I’m not a fan of hip-hop culture, I am tolerant of it and realize that it is what it is; I can accept that hip-hop culture is a part of the NBA fan culture (much like country music and the NASCAR fan culture). I’m also much more impressed by successful three-point shots (which are quite capable of changing a game’s outcome) than I am impressed by a slam dunk (which will only ever score two points, just like any other basket made inside the arc). I’m not a typical NBA fan by any means, but I have always been against discrimination, particularly flagrant and persistent racism of the variety seen here.

Mr. Sterling, quite honestly, you are the one who stinks with your downright putrid and vile racism. You may be in Los Angeles, but I can smell it all the way over here in Houston, Texas, and I’m sure others can smell it as far away as New York City or for that matter, just about anywhere in the world. Honestly, I think it is a damn shame that under the NBA constitution and bylaws, Commissioner Silver could only fine you $2.5 million, because you’re getting off way too easy given the trivial portion of your wealth that $2.5 million represents. You actually deserve to be fined the entire value of the Los Angeles Clippers franchise–actually more than that, you deserve to lose all the profit you’ve made from them since the day in 1983 when you crossed the line and referred to your players using the most offensive slur possible for people of color. Indeed, the absolutely demonic racism and bigotry you expressed in a conversation you knew was being recorded has actually harmed your business interests as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Given this, it defies any sense of logic that you would want to continue to hang on to an asset that you yourself have devalued, and which will only continue to decline in value as long as you own it. Not only will it decline in value as long as you own it, it will decline in value specifically because you, Donald Sterling, own it. In marketing we call this “negative brand equity,” a concept you would have done well to familiarize yourself with at least before buying the Clippers, if not before getting into real estate (unfortunately, I think it’s too late now). Not only do you have no business owning or being associated with an NBA team, you have no business owning or being associated with a professional sports franchise in any sport. And honestly, I dare say you don’t have any business working in real estate either given your past violations of the Fair Housing Act, the “Korean World Towers” incident, and your absolutely horrible treatment of Kandynce Jones. Unfortunately for the rest of us, you are a walking, talking illustration of the phrase “more money than sense.” And dare I say it, I would be happy if someone truthfully told me you died broke, and I doubt I’m the only one.

To the other professional sports organizations, specifically (but not limited to) the National Football League, the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and NASCAR: You really shouldn’t need me to tell you how bad of an idea it is to allow Mr. Sterling to be an owner of a team or franchise in your respective organizations. But, for the record: as a fan of many specific sports, as well as a fan of sports in general and a fan of good morals and egalitarianism (equal treatment without regard to attributes such as race and gender), I will be severely disappointed should I find out Mr. Sterling is now associated with a team or franchise in any of your respective organizations, and I am positive I will not be the only one.

To the other 29 owners in the NBA: Edmund Burke is quoted as saying “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I believe you are all good men (and women). You will soon have an opportunity to do something about an egregious racist among your ranks who makes the entire NBA, your basketball league, look bad. Your commissioner did the right thing, but it’s up to you to finish the job. Please make the most of your opportunity.

To Adam Silver: To say the least, I think it is unfortunate that you were faced with this crisis so early in your tenure as commissioner of the NBA. However, you handled it extremely well and for that you deserve to be applauded. I realize there are people who will say something should have been done about Mr. Sterling a long time ago; in response to them, you may wish to quote the Chinese proverb “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is now.” It is my sincere hope that this is the beginning, not the end, of a quest to rid the NBA of discrimination. It is also my sincere hope that this is the only such sanction you have to impose during your tenure as NBA commissioner.

And finally, to all the NBA fans out there (fans of any of the 30 teams): There’s no better time to support your team than now. The commissioner of our beloved NBA has shown, just over two into his tenure, that he can make the right decision when the situation calls for it, and that he will not tolerate racism during his tenure. That’s a good reason to remain a fan or to come back if you have left within the tumultous events of the past few days.

State of “the day of rest” in 2012

A recent chron.com story about the Beren Academy basketball flap reveals a happy ending, that the games will be rescheduled to accomodate the Jewish observance of the Sabbath on Saturdays (which actually runs from Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset).

Several people of prominence, including Houston mayor Annise Parker, former Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, and Senators Rodney Ellis and Dan Patrick pressured TAPPS (the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools) into making the required schedule changes.

From the article:

Ellis and Patrick had placed phone calls to TAPPS officials and crafted a letter expressing frustration at the handling of the matter and urging reconsideration. The letter characterized the matter as “a controversy that never should have taken place,” noting that the other schools involved had expressed a willingness to re-schedule that that Beren had agreed to pay the costs of securing an alternate venue.

I agree with the Senators, in that the controversy should never have had a chance to form. However, my agreement is for reasons likely quite different than those of the Senators and other supporters of the Beren Academy basketball team.

First, a bit about religions and their various “day of rest” observances, as noted in Wikipedia’s “Sabbath” article. Perhaps best known to most of my readers is the Christian Sabbath, observed on Sunday (called the “First-day Sabbath” in the article). Then, there is the Sabbath observed on Saturday, by not only Jews, but several other denominations such as Seventh Day Baptists and the more widely known Seventh-Day Adventists.

As if two different Sabbath days weren’t enough, there are also some Muslims who observe Friday as a rest day (Jumu’ah). Some Muslims only treat this day as a prayer day, but some do treat it as a rest day. The Bahá’í also keep Fridays as a day of rest (from Thursday at sunset to Friday at sunset).

Add all these together, and you now have three separate days on which a day of rest is observed on a weekly basis by different religions (four if you count the Thursday after sunset of the Bahá’í). And you can start to see the very real problem of an inflexible “day of rest” provision prescribed by religion. It’s not that big of a leap to see a Muslim school, a Jewish school, a Seventh-Day Adventist school, and a (first-day Sabbath) Baptist school making the state semi-finals at some point. What would TAPPS do then?

I do agree in general with the concept of one day of rest out of the week. However, I don’t think it needs to be necessarily the same day every week, week in, week out. I recently saw a TV show (PBS’s American Experience) on how the Amish have changed their way of life over the past few decades, doing things today that would have been unheard of as recently as thirty years ago, such as working in “English” factories. (Interestingly, Wikipedia’s article is completely silent on whether or not Amish observe a day of rest, let alone which day.)

The idea of setting aside the same day out of every week as a day of rest is a great idea, but I feel that inflexibly hanging onto it no matter what the consequence is a bit outdated. It may have worked decently in 1812, maybe even 1912. Problem is, we’re in 2012, and even the Amish have figured that out.

A truly dumb question for Charlie Coles

I haven’t done any sports-related stuff for a while. So much so, that I did a double take when I saw the scores, not fully realizing it was about a basketball game.

Gary Parrish’s blog at CBS Sports discusses a post-game interview with Charlie Coles, basketball coach at Miami University. The Kentucky Wildcats won the game against Miami when John Wall hit a jumper at the buzzer.

Now, Kentucky is one of the best teams in the country at this point, a popular pick to make the Final Four. (Quick lesson for those of you who do not follow college basketball, the NCAA tournament starts with 65 teams, reduced to 64 after one play-in game between the 64th and 65th seeds, then is a standard single elimination tournament after that. The Final Four is the group of teams remaining after the pool has been reduced to that number.)

Enter Dick Hall, who has the guts to ask poor Charlie “How did this one get away from you?”

Which, if you’ve been following along so far, is a question which really makes zero sense. Coles’s reply is priceless:

“I can’t believe you asked that question; I really can’t believe it,” Coles said. “Let me see here. Kentucky Wildcats. No. 4 in the country. I’m hearing four first-round draft choices. And you’re asking me how that got away from me ? Why don’t you ask John why it was so close?”

It gets even better when Charlie finds out he’s talking to a reporter from Lexington. But don’t take my word for it: listen to the audio for yourself (this is the uncut interview; the interesting part starts from 1:42, and the entire answer to the question ends at about 4:12).

Let this be a lesson to anyone who wants to ask Charlie Coles a rather dumb question like this.