On Donald Sterling …
… AND THE NBA’S RESPONSE TO HIS RACISM
Los Angeles Clippers’ billionaire owner Donald Sterling is among the ugliest racists you’ll ever encounter. He’s ugly aesthetically (which he can’t help) but the depths of his misguided contempt for other people based on their skin color is truly hideous.
And that’s something he can help …
Those who follow the National Basketball Association (NBA) have known about Sterling’s racism for years.
“I wanna know why you think you can coach these niggers,” he allegedly told Villanova head coach Rollie Massimino in 1983.
Massimino promptly withdrew his name for consideration for the Clippers’ head coaching position – and the franchise continued what would wind up being a league-record thirty year run between playoff victories.
“They smell, they’re not clean,” Sterling said of blacks in 2002, according to sworn testimony.
A 2009 lawsuit filed by former general manager Elgin Baylor accused Sterling of articulating a “vision of a Southern Plantation type structure” for the Clippers – one in which “poor black boys from the South” played for a white coach.
Sterling’s non-basketball companies have also faced federal allegations of discrimination. In 2009, for example, he paid out nearly $3 million to settle discrimination claims filed by black and Hispanic tenants.
In that case, federal prosecutors offered evidence “indicating that African Americans and Hispanics were not desirable tenants and that (Sterling and his wife) preferred Korean tenants.”
Sterling’s racism reached a point of critical mass this month, when the website TMZ published audio recordings of his racist rants to a girlfriend.
In response to those comments, NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life from the league – meaning he is not permitted to attend any NBA games or practices or set foot inside any NBA facility. Silver also fined Sterling $2.5 million – and is trying to force him to sell the Clippers’ franchise (which is valued at nearly $600 million).
There is precedent for banning or suspending owners on the basis of racist comments. Marge Schott – the late owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team – was repeatedly suspended by Major League Baseball (MLB) for racist remarks. Accordingly, we believe the NBA is well within its right to issue a ban and fine Sterling for conduct detrimental to the league.
But can the NBA really force Sterling to sell an asset he owns over offensive comments? If three-fourths of NBA owners agree, apparently so – although Sterling has vowed to fight any forced divesture of his ownership in court.
We don’t watch the NBA. Never have … never will. It bores us, to be perfectly honest. Accordingly, we don’t really care what happens to Sterling – or his team (which is currently locked in a tight playoff battle against the Golden State Warriors).
We do, however, think NBA owners should pause and consider the implications of forcing an owner to sell his franchise based on offensive comments. That strikes us as taking legitimate outrage over Sterling’s racism a step too far.
Whether Sterling deserves a lifetime ban is up for debate – but at the end of the day that decision is clearly up to the NBA.
Forcing an owner to sell his asset just because we disagree with his speech? That’s another matter …