Donald Sterling is despicable and a bigot. These are incontrovertible facts NBA insiders and fans with a moderate interest in the league’s machinations have been aware of for years. However, there is more to this story besides what affect it’ll have on his future as an NBA owner. Sterling’s comments have inevitably riled up activists, fans and anyone with a social conscience, spurring knee jerk reactions and thoroughly thought out decisions alike.
When Sterling’s comments first hit the net, there was a call for the Clippers to boycott the game and for fans to do the same if the game was still played. Neither was ever going to happen. For one thing, the game was played in Golden State and not Los Angeles.
Besides the expectation that fans would simply stop showing up for NBA games is idealistic, but unrealistic. Fans are fungible. Players are not, but the playoffs was the worst time of year for a boycott. In the regular season, I could have imagined the Clippers players refusing to take the floor, but at this time of year, it wouldn’t have any punitive effect on the man behind the actual controversy. While his players have grinded through years of grueling practices, agonizing time away from family, packed schedules and 82 games of NBA competition this season alone for an opportunity to win an NBA championship, Sterling isn’t a player, coach or passionate fan. He’s a ruthless businessman worth over $1.4 billion. He’s also been satisfied with losing since he brought the team as long as it didn’t affect his bottom line. Of course, two home playoff games are nothing, but is a drop in the bucket. The real punishment would be the forfeiture of his franchise.
However, there is a caveat. If Sterling isn’t suspended for the rest of the playoffs before Game 5 in Los Angeles Commissioner Adam Silver is opening himself up to be viewed as softer than putty towards wayward league owners in the eyes of players at a time when he should be solidifying his reputation among the league. The issue is more complex than just considering Sterling’s future as the owner of an NBA franchise in one of the nation’s largest media markets.
The most bizarre development was Sterling’s invitation to a May 15th NAACP banquet honoring him and Al Sharpton on the same night. Sharpton was being named Person of the Year. Sterling was to be given a Lifetime Achievement Award. LA's NAACP were going to invite a man into their inner sanctum when he thinks of them as lepers.
The recording released to TMZ by Sterling’s mistress wasn’t the first instance of Sterling expressing reprehensible views towards minorities. However, the beauty of audio was the “aha!” hand in the cookie jar proof that took his brand of racism mainstream.
What’s odd is that this wasn’t even the most egregious act of discrimination he’s ever been caught participating in.
In 2006, the Justice Department lawsuit filed a suit accusing Sterling of refusing to lease Beverly Hills apartments to African-Americans and rejected non-Korean tenants in Koreatown. The case was settled for $3 million. It shouldn't have. Sterling's been getting a pass for too long. The NBA settled after Sterling relocated the Clippers without seeking NCAA approval in 1984. The league fined Sterling $25 million, twice as much as the $13 million price tag he spent to purchase the Clippers in 1981.
Despite these discrimination accusations, the NAACP put their reputation on the line by honoring Sterling not once, but twice. Instead of wearing the sheet on his own head, he pulled the wool over the heads of L.A.’s NAACP chapter by donating tickets to minority youth groups.
At the time, the NAACP honored Sterling the first time, he was being sued by Elgin Baylor for employee discrimination. In the suit, Baylor quoted Sterling as saying he wanted “poor black boys from the South” playing for a “white head coach.”
Because of this pseudo-generosity the NAACP awarded him with a Lifetime Achievement honor. Sterling didn’t deserve the award if he was purchasing it at a garage sale, which is what makes the NAACP’s award even more perplexing. On Sunday, the NAACP tried to play damage control, by rescinding his award, but that wasn’t enough.
Sterling is the most repugnant professional sports franchise owner since Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott's shadow towered over MLB's diamonds but removing him from his position may not be as simple because of an exemption to federal anti-trust law MLB is afforded.
The similarities between former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott and Sterling are parallel. Not are only are they bigots, but they share the same stinginess with money as the fictional Ebenezer Scrooge. The former Reds owner was notorious for avoiding any extra costs such as banners or displaying away game scores on the scoreboard because the service cost 350 grand a month. There aren’t many Clipper banners at Laker games because there are few too hang.
They’re also equally self-loathing. Schott was against the idea of women in the workplace, which is laughably ironic. Conversely, Sterling changed his last name from the more Jewish sounding Tokowitz. As opposed to Schott, Sterling was a fan of "working women" and once evicted a head coach with the same disregard he did his African-American tenants. Early on in his ownership tenure, he installed a former model named Patricia Simmons as one of the organizations assistant general manager’s in the '80s. He then smuggled her into Paul Silas’ office, and left the head coaches belongings boxed up outside his office.
Like Sterling, Schott was cavalier about espousing her bigoted views, such as calling former outfielder Dave Parker, a million dollar nigger or the franchise’s marketing director Cal Levy as a beady-eyed Jew, but she escaped MLB banishment until publicly supporting Hitler’s policies for a second time.
Her written apology was accepted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Cincinnati, but at least they never tried to award her with a Lifetime Achievement. Sterling was given two. One lifetime with Sterling in it is enough.
We may never know why exactly some within the LA chapter of the NAACP revered Sterling so much. In all likelihoods, he threw some cash around and stuffed a few pockets.
Deciding to honor an unrepentant racist in the first place was the mistake. Ultimately, the NAACP probably should have stayed the course and handed him his Lifetime Achievement Award so his acceptance speech would be streamed live on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News.
The NAACP could have turned the tables, made him their leper, called it a roast and kicked him out midway through the night.
Sterling’s slights towards minorities didn't occur 30 years ago. These occurred in the last decade. It’s been said that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn't exist. The same goes for bigots in position of power who lull us into a false sense of security. The NAACP of all people should have remained vigilant.
As we learned from Jay Bilas' outspoken criticism of the NCAA's amateurism policies or Tipper Gore's crusade on behalf of the RIAA against Prince and the 2 Live Crew, White America often doesn’t respond to a call for change until white men endorse it. This was a wake-up call. For the Supreme Court, legislators or anyone that believes racism is no longer alive. Sterling deserves this award for bringing his darkness into the light.
After all, nobody could have proven the necessity of organizations like the NAACP or policies like affirmative action better than the archaic words right out of Sterling’s mouth emerging in 2014.