Friday, May 02, 2014

A Sterling Reputation

Well, it was just a week or so ago, and I was living a quite blissful existence without any awareness whatsoever about the loathsome Donald Sterling.

For those who have not been within ear shot of a pundit, or within eyeball range of a headline, Sterling is the likely-soon-to-be-former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, a.k.a., the NBA franchise in LA that is not the Lakers.

Sterling was recently caught on tape – taped by his I presume erstwhile girlfriend*, but released/sold to TMZ by parties unknown – excoriating  said girlfriend (V Stiviano, who is herself half African American-half Mexican)  - because she had been publically associating with black people.

"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people," Sterling allegedly says to  Stiviano in the recording. "Do you have to?"

The person TMZ identifies as Sterling goes on. "I'm just saying, in your lousy [expletive] Instagrams, you don't have to have yourself with, walking with black people. ... Don't put [Magic Johnson] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games." (Source: NPR)

Now, if Sterling had said he didn’t want to see Magic Johnson on Instagram or up close and personal because Magic is so closely associated with the Clippers’ archrival the LA Lakers, that would have been one thing. But the problem with Magic, in Sterling’s mind, doesn’t seem to be that Magic is a Laker. It seems to be that Magic is black.

Anyway, the upshot has been a colossal hue and outcry against Sterling, who has been “banned for life” from the NBA, which translates into no involvement with the team he owns. It is likely that his fellow owners will vote to force him to sell the franchise, which, apparently, they’re allowed to do.

This whole deal could, of course, drag on in the courts for years.

I don’t care an awful lot about professional basketball. My husband was the fan of the house, and I can’t imagine that I’ll watch it much going forward, other than if and when the Celtics become a good team again.(Baseball remains my through thick and thin sport.)

Still, this brouhaha certainly didn’t escape my attention.

This is not Sterling’s first brush with accusations of racism. He’s a big deal LA landlord who not that long ago had to pay a major league fine for refusing to rent to blacks and Hispanics.

So the NBA will certainly be well rid of a racist jerk.

Still, there is a niggling question – niggling to me, at least – that the big outpouring against Sterling, and the pronouncement by the NBA commissioner of the lifetime ban, may not have been the best way to see his back.

In this, I guess I fall more in the Mark Cuban (owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks) camp:

"In this country, people are allowed to be morons," Cuban said Monday night in Dallas' locker room. "They're allowed to be stupid. They're allowed to think idiotic thoughts .... Within an organization like the NBA, we try to do what's in the best interest of the league and that's why we have a commissioner and a constitution and I think [NBA Commissioner] Adam [Silver] will be smart and deal with Donald with the full extent available.

"But, again, if you're saying a blanket, 'Let's kick him out?' I don't want to go that far because it's not about Donald, it's not about his position, it's about his mess -- and what are we going to make a decision on?"

Cuban made it clear that he thought the NBA would be better off without Sterling as an owner, but he also said it would be a "very slippery slope" if the league started forcing owners to sell based on comments made in private.

"In no uncertain terms am I supporting what Donald Sterling said, or his position," Cuban said. "He's obviously racist, he's obviously bigoted. And in this day and age when you're in the public eye you've got to be damn careful -- if that's your position and that's unfortunately where you're at -- you better be damn careful what you say, even in the privacy of your own home.

"But regardless of your background, regardless of the history they have, if we're taking something somebody said in their home and we're trying to turn it into something that leads to you being forced to divest property in any way, shape or form, that's not the United States of America. I don't want to be part of that." (Source: LA Times.)

Here’s what I would have preferred to see happen:

  • The continued flight of sponsors, who began fleeing the Clippers in droves once Sterling’s comments were revealed.
  • A boycott by the players, which they had threatened. (Not that you have to be an African American to be outraged by Sterling’s attitude, but the player rosters of the NBA are about 70% black.)
  • A boycott by fans.

To me, it’s hard not to believe that a lot of what motivated the decision-making by the NBA to toss Sterling out on his racist ear was fear that the above would have hit the NBA where it lives. You get them by the wallet, and their sanctimonious little hearts will follow…

I also think that a let’s-lock-arms move on the part of the fellow owners, the NBA brass, coaches, and players – past and present – getting right in Sterling’s face and telling him that he is no longer wanted, would have been the right thing to do.

If, at this point, Sterling refused to sell his team, then I think the NBA and/or fellow owners should have invoked whatever morals/bad publicity/disgracing-the-league clause they could unearth to force him out.

And, of course, we could then enjoy the prospect of the sunny, affable Magic Johnson (also considered an extremely shrewd businessman) – the person Sterling didn’t want showing up on Instagram with his companion becoming the owner of the Clippers. How fun would that be?

As Mark Cuban has said, this is a slippery slope.

Sterling is clearly a bigot (and a a-hole of colossal magnitude), but that’s not against the law – or it wasn’t the last time I looked.


*For the record, Stiviano – who is being sued by Sterling’s wife of 50 years, Rochelle, who’s trying to claw back some of the $2M+ goodies that Sterling bestowed on Stiviano over the years – is asserting that she was not sexually/romantically involved with Sterling. Since he is 80, this is certainly within the realm of possibility, and that she may just be the girl-on-the-arm of the old goat.

Stiviano's lawyer said his client was a hard-working young woman who supported herself waitressing and volunteered helping crime victims before signing on to work as an “archivist” for Sterling.(Source: LA Times)

Well, one man’s “archivist” is another man’s eye candy, I suppose.

“She had no association with any rich people before this,” he said.

And I suspect she won’t be having a whole hell of a lot in the future, either.

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