There is a grotesque, inevitable symmetry to it all. Just as the Los Angeles Clippers finally abandon three decades of laughingstock status to become a legitimate NBA contender, their low-class racist/bigot/creep of an owner is taking a historic plunge into irreparable disgrace. It shocks no one who knows Donald T. Sterling that his voice would be exposed on an audio recording in which he uses racially insensitive comments in addressing his girlfriend — allegedly a woman of black and Mexican descent named V. Stiviano — about her relationships with minorities.
Sterling, who has a long trail of racist and sexist episodes as a sports owner and real-estate magnate, is heard on a tape asking Stiviano not to bring black people to games and to not “promote’’ her associations with black people.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” the man says on the tape, first posted by TMZ. “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.”
If the man is Sterling — and NBA officials are convinced enough after hearing the tape to have launched a vigorous investigation — then it’s obviously time for the league’s new commissioner, Adam Silver, to take his first powerful stance and demand Sterling step down as owner. If he refuses? Ban him for life. These are reprehensible remarks by any measure, but they particularly sting within the ranks of professional basketball, where about 75 percent of the NBA’s players are black and 12 league franchises employed black head coaches at the start of the 2013-14 season. Since he bought the team in 1981, Sterling has been one of the worst owners in sports and the subject of constant accusations of discrimination and unsavory behavior, including charges that he didn’t want African-Americans, Latinos and families with children living in the apartment complexes he owns throughout Los Angeles. His own players, including Baron Davis, have spoken bitterly about Sterling’s racist comments in their presence. Oddly, the previous commissioner, David Stern, tolerated these overtones, and one NBA owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, has been known to socialize with Sterling at a Super Bowl.
All ties to this man must end, now. With the Clippers capable of reaching the NBA Finals behind two stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, who are among America’s biggest sports endorsement darlings, they cannot be expected to proceed this postseason with Sterling continuing to sit courtside at Staples Center. Major League Baseball established a precedent when Marge Schott, the ignoramus who owned the Cincinnati Reds in the ‘80s and ‘90s, was banned for life after a history of insensitive slurs. Sterling must be next.
Not surprisingly, Sterling didn’t face the situation directly. He had one of his team underlings, president Andy Roeser, claim extortion. While it’s important to establish that Stiviano is being sued by Sterling, who claims she embezzled more than $1.8 million, any underhanded attempt to damage Sterling still is overwhelmed by the racist comments in the tape. “We have heard the tape on TMZ. We do not know if it is legitimate or it has been altered,” Roeser said in a statement. “We do know that the woman on the tape — who we believe released it to TMZ — is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family alleging that she embezzled more than $1.8 million, who told Mr. Sterling that she would ‘get even.’ Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them.’’
Do we live in a world today where a tape could be rigged to burn Sterling? Yes.
Does Sterling’s racist reputation also precede him? Double yes.
Again, as we watch how the NFL handles the indiscretions of team owners Jim Irsay and Jimmy Haslam, how can the NBA demand responsible behavior from its players yet allow an owner such as Sterling to slide? And beneath that surface are the explosive racial ramifications — if a white owner is pardoned, a league of predominantly black players has every right to be incensed. It is a powderkeg issue for Silver, who was groomed by Stern, and if he doesn’t react quickly, I wouldn’t blame the Clippers for mounting a protest and even refusing to play until Sterling is dealt with. The last thing this league needs is a burst of racial tension that always has simmered, yet there was the Rev. Al Sharpton, announcing a protest outside Staples Center before Game 5 of the Clippers-Golden State series Tuesday night.
“The first burden is upon the commissioner, Adam Silver, to act decisively because we don’t want this to drag on throughout the playoffs,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said. “Donald Sterling should be banned immediately. The question is for how long. To do otherwise would subject his players to the indignity of working for a racist. And since Donald Sterling doesn’t want blacks to go to his games, blacks should not go to his games. And whites who view blacks as equals should not go to his games. Why should the players even play for him when he has stated that their relatives — their children, their parents, some of their wives — are not welcome at their games?’’
But will Silver and the owners be responsible enough and strong enough to take action against one of their own? Mark Jackson, one of the league’s black coaches and leader of a Golden State team playing the Clippers in the first round, doubts it. “This is the real world,’’ he said. “And I’ll go out on a limb and say that the statements that were made, there’s other people in this world that feel that way. So let’s not be naive.”
What’s remarkable about this story is that it erupts amid a turnaround for a franchise that was run horribly for three decades. The futility subsided when the Clippers drafted Griffin with the first pick in 2009, and somehow, Sterling didn’t screw it up. Instead, his underlings engineered a trade for Paul — made possible because Stern vetoed a trade that would have sent the all-world point guard to the rival Lakers — and Sterling suddenly opened up his tight wallet to form a deep, talented roster. Last summer, he hired Doc Rivers — an African-American coach who won a championship in Boston — to coach the team and run the front office. The Clippers have become one of the league’s great stories and most entertaining teams. Their owner should be thrilled.
Instead, he doesn’t want his girlfriend to be seen with black people at games.
Rivers, as usual, is handling a difficult situation with great equilibrium. He met with the Clippers players, all of whom were angry, and let them vent. But then he refocused the team on the matter at hand: beating the Warriors and staying far above the ogre’s mess. “I didn’t like the comments, obviously. I’m gonna tell you now, and I’m speaking on behalf of the team, the players are not going to deal with this issue,’’ Rivers said. “We had a great team meeting. A lot of guys voiced their opinions. None of them were very happy about it. This is a situation where we’re trying to go after something that’s very important to us, something we’ve dreamed about since our childhoods. Donald and no one else had anything to do with that dream, and we’re not gonna let anything get in the way of those dreams. That situation will be dealt with later. Our goals haven’t changed. Our focus is on Golden State.’’
Paul, too, commented, on behalf of the NBA Players Association, which he serves as president. “This is a very serious issue which we will address aggressively,” he said in a statement. “As players, we owe it to our teams and our fans to keep our focus on our game, the playoffs, and a drive to the Finals.”
All day, all night, anger rose from social media and all sectors of American life.
“Myself and other people of color were subjected to this mentality for over 20 years,” said former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor, who lost a racial/age discrimination and harassment lawsuit to Sterling in 2011 after his firing. Continued Baylor, who spoke to ESPN, “I both witnessed and experienced it. What he said speaks for itself.”
NBA great Magic Johnson responded strongly on Twitter after Stiviano posted a photo of her with Johnson on Instagram. “(His wife) Cookie and I will never go to a Clippers game again as long as Donald Sterling is the owner,’’ Johnson wrote. “I feel sorry for my friends Coach Doc Rivers and Chris Paul that they have to work for a man that feels that way about African Americans. LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s comments about African Americans are a black eye for the NBA.’’ Later, Johnson said Sterling should step down as owner or sell the team and suggested African-America fans boycott Clippers games.
Tweeted Davis, now a TV analyst: “That’s the way it is…He is honest about what he believes in..Been going on for a long time, Hats off 2 the Team.. 4 playin above it all.’’
Said Brooklyn Nets guard Shaun Livingston, a former Clipper: “Everybody kind of knows what’s going on, you know what I mean? If you look at it, I would say it’s probably disappointing to a lot of people, but if you look at what’s kind of gone on in the past, it’s very unfortunate. But I think it kind of tells the same story as what’s been told, if you pull up the record.”
Kobe Bryant, seething that his Lakers aren’t anywhere near the playoffs while the Clippers thrive, vented about Sterling to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith. “It’s a damn shame but a sad reality that we have people in the world who continue to further such ignorance,” Bryant said. “I would not want to play for him.”
Similarly strong comments came from LeBron James, who didn’t know if he could proceed with a playoff game if he played for Sterling. “”No room for Donald Sterling in our league,’’ James said. “As commissioner of our league, you have to make a stand and you have to be very aggressive with it.” “I don’t know what it’s going to be, but you just can’t have that in our league. … I’ve wavered back and forth if I would actually sit out, if our owner came out and said the things that he said. I would really have to sit down with my teammates, talk to my family, because at the end of the day, our family and our teammates are way more important than that. And basketball is huge, obviously the playoffs have been unbelievable, and I hate the fact that something like this has to come when the playoffs have been unbelievable. And the game of basketball continues to grow. But there’s no room for Donald Sterling in our league. There’s no room for him.”
Stern and the owners should have dumped Sterling long ago. Shame on Reinsdorf, a low-life turd himself, for socializing with him. Shame on Mark Cuban for once saying, “I like Donald.’’ The NBA enabled Sterling for much too long.
Says Cuban now, per ESPN: “Sometimes people think you have to comment on everything in this day and age. When somebody says something, it’s better to just let what’s been said be the headline, because that sends a far greater message. They stand on their own, just because they are pretty self-evident on the surface. There’s no reason to add any commentary or headlines to it. … The obvious is the obvious. There’s no reason for me to repeat the obvious.”
The obvious: Donald T. Sterling is a racist who must be purged. As for his team, the Clippers are playing for themselves. As Charles Barkley said, “This is a Donald Sterling thing, not a Clipper team thing. The team can’t shut down because they say, `Our owner’s a jackass.’ ‘’ There is no need for Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and all the rest to do anything but band as one, keep cashing the assclown’s checks and hope that it leads to new ownership, new attitudes and a new way of life, far from the disgusting tenure of a repulsive lunatic.