The past week has represented a troubling time for the National Basketball Association, its fans, and the public at large. On April 25th, audio tapes were released by TMZ of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling which caught him spewing what can only be called vile, hatful words directed at a race of people whose only crime had been to play for his teams and help make him the billionaire that he is today.
As reports continue to surface of the many negative issues surrounding this oligarch, people have to wonder as to why he has been able to remain in power and privilege in a league of NBA owners for decades. This is not the first time that Donald Sterling, or Donald Tokowitz as his mother would remember him, has had his run-ins with those of the minority persuasion. A 2011 lawsuit by former Clipper’s General Manager, and proud African American, Elgin Baylor, claimed that “Sterling, told Baylor repeatedly that he “wanted the Clippers team to be composed of ‘Poor Black boys from the South’ and a White head coach.”
In 2006, the Justice Department accused Sterling of housing discrimination based on the fact that he covertly kept his properties in both Beverly Hills and Koreatown out of the hands of African American and other minority renters. The end result was a $3 million dollar fine for the not so Sterling man.
So why was he able to continue on without reproach as a respected owner in the NBA? The answer may lie in the back halls of a league that will do everything it can to promote its product while hiding its dirty laundry. Speculation is that then Commissioner David Stern did not want a public fight with the experienced litigator in Sterling. Others will offer that Sterling was just another member of a white, billionaire boys club that felt that the rules just didn’t apply to them.
We may never know for sure the reasoning behind this man’s actions, but what we should know is that he is just a representation of a greater hypocrisy covering everyone from the NBA front office, to the players, to the NAACP.
In the 2011 lawsuit filed by Elgin Baylor, the original allegations against Sterling were that of age discrimination, racism and harassment. The racism allegation was removed by Baylor’s legal team before the trial began and in the end, the jury voted against Baylor, stating that they believed that he was fired from his position as general manager strictly on the basis that the team was not playing up to expectations. In light of this week’s developments, it may have been that Baylor’s initial claims of racism and harassment were legitimate, and his legal team only dropped the racism claim because they did not have enough proof to make it stick, and not because they allegations were false. The NBA’s reaction to the lawsuit and allegations was to sit on its hands and do nothing.
Additionally, in the 2006 lawsuit by minority tenants who claimed unfair housing discrimination by Sterling; a suit that was settled for money, the National Basketball Association took the high road and offered no response.
To further support the possibilities of harassment against blacks by Sterling, Baron Davis, the two-time All Star point guard went on a radio show a week before the explosive tapes were revealed to talk about his time as a Clipper under Sterling. According to sources, Davis stated that, “Sterling called him a bastard, the devil and crazy.” The veteran Davis went on to say that in all of his playing days, he had never felt anxiety until he began playing for the Clippers. The Association’s response was to not respond.
Regardless of the legal results of these various allegations, the National Basketball Association had a responsibility to at least look into a man who would later be discovered as a racist of the highest order, and yet they did nothing. After high profile lawsuits and a litany of decades-long allegations towards Sterling, It took a jilted lover with a recorder to finally bring both the Sterling man, and the NBA to its knees.
Back in 2011, one of the NBA’s biggest stars, Kobe Bryant was caught on video voicing a homophobic slur during a Lakers game, and David Stern wasted no time in punishing #24. According to ESPN, “Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 by the NBA on Wednesday for a gay slur that Commissioner David Stern called ‘offensive and inexcusable.’” However, Kobe’s fans felt the penalty was too harsh a punishment for such a term spoken in the heat of battle. And the backlash from Kobe’s peers never came. Player’s from around the league who are never at a loss for words or complaints, fell silent; something that screams hypocrisy. Calling someone what he said on national television is just as much a negative as Sterling’s privately recorded racist rant, and this is something that the players need to not only acknowledge, but take steps to eradicate.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “What I said last night should not be taken literally,” Bryant said in a statement. “My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.”
To Bryant’s credit, he did come out and apologize for his behavior and has since gone on to make amends with those he has offended. His fellow players however are no-where to be found on the issue.
Donald Sterling has been a fixture in the Los Angeles community for more than 50 years, and during this time, he has built himself up from nothing to becoming one of the countries premier businessman with an estimated net value of $1.9 billion. It is safe to say that a man with such financial resources has the ability to buy his way into any circle that he chooses, and it would appear, to the utter embarrassment of the NAACP, that he has done just that. In 2009, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People presented one Donald Sterling with a Lifetime Achievement Award. NAACP Los Angeles chapter president, Leon Jenkins said “the NAACP decided to honor Sterling because of ‘a body of work. Mr. Sterling’s organization has on a consistent basis brought in the minority community. He has also over the years contributed to a number of minority charities. Compared to other L.A. franchises, his organization gave more money than the others.’” In an ironic twist, Sterling was in talks to settle his housing racial discrimination suit brought by black and other minority groups who were looking to rent his properties right before he garnered this lifetime achievement award. And if that wasn’t enough, Sterling was due up for a second award in May of 2014 when all hell broke loose.
The End Result
If anything, the events of this past week have represented a cleansing of sorts for the NBA, its fans, and the world over. The arena of Sports has been able to accomplish a rare feat over the years; bringing together groups of all different races, cultures, and religious belief systems to compete as one; something that has eluded entire nations. Gone is a hatemongering oligarch who once ruled with an iron fist. In his place, a sense of justice and a feeling of hope that we as one race of human beings are slowly but surely moving forward to a judgment free society.