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:
- Wikipedia article on Donald Sterling (particularly note the Racial remarks section and the Accusations of discrimination section)
- ESPN article from shortly after the decision
- TMZ original post of the audio
- Video of NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s press conference announcing lifetime ban of Donald Sterling plus $2.5 million fine (I think this may have originally came from ESPN as well, the ticker which appears midway through looks like theirs)
- Deadspin.com: Your Complete Quotable Guide to Decades of Donald Sterling’s Racism
- Jeff Pearlman: The Eccentric Donald Sterling (warning: potentially offensive slurs not censored)
- ESPN: Uncontested: The Life of Donald Sterling (ESPN: The Magazine story from 2009)
- Business Insider: Here Are All The Shockingly Awful Donald Sterling Stories That The NBA Ignored For Years (this has a few things in it the other stories linked do not)
Mr. Sterling’s history as a businessman, both as an NBA team owner and otherwise, has been peppered with several “black mark” incidents of discrimination. Perhaps the most egregious of them was what he said to Rollie Massimino way back in 1983: “I wanna know why you think you can coach these n#$%&#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
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.