How have you been enjoying the NBA playoffs? Great games, eh? What? You want to talk about Donald Sterling? You want to discuss race in America? I want to talk basketball.
This is what bugs me. This first round of the NBA playoffs has been widely regarded as the best in NBA history. There have been buzzer-beaters, overtime games, upsets of top seeds. Yet all people want to talk about are the insane rantings of an 80-year-old owner.
On Tuesday, recently appointed NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned the embattled LA Clippers owner for life. He also fined Sterling $2.5 million. It was a Bart Giamatti-Pete Rose moment. The words “banned for life” just stir those kind of emotions in people. Ooooo… “life!”
Pardon me if I don’t feel bad for any party involved. $2.5 million to Donald Sterling is like $2.50 to you or me. If he sold the Clippers today (which he claims he won’t do), he’ll stand to profit over a half of a billion dollars. That’s billion with a “b.”
That was a nice moment the other night in Golden State when all the Clippers, in an act of defiance, went out to center court, took off their warm up jackets, and threw them down. How cute seeing millionaires rebelling.
What Donald Sterling said was wrong. You and I know that. I wouldn’t go so far as Oprah Winfrey to scald Sterling that the “plantation days are over.” That’s insulting to slaves. I never heard of any slaves making $100 million, a la Chris Paul.
Silver said he would now seek to force Sterling to sell the Clippers. That’s within his right. Major League Baseball forced Marge Schott to sell the Cincinnati Reds in the 1990s, in part, because she made racist comments covering the spectrum of minority groups.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban warned, prior to the sentence being handed down, that forcing an owner to sell his team based on insensitive remarks or views could cause a “slippery slope.” Get ready. You will be hearing that term a lot in the coming days from civil libertarians.
I agree. People like Sterling are abhorrent. They make me puke. What makes me puke even more (pardon the poor choice of words) is the idea that people like this rise to prominence in our society. But they do. Don’t be so naive. They are all around. They are in positions of power in your schools. They are in your police stations. Most importantly and vile, they are in your legislatures.
These are the ones we should go after. These are the people we should vilify. These are the people that affect our life, directly. Strom Thurmond, perhaps the biggest racist Senator of all-time, was allowed to be the longest running Senator in U.S. history, serving from 1954 until his death at the age of 100 in 2003. Imagine some of the private conversations he must have had.
The NBA allowed Sterling to serve as owner of the Clippers for thirty-three years. There were rumors, hints, and innuendos about Sterling’s leanings. Some weren’t so subtle. He has been sued by the U.S. Department of Justice. He has also been sued by longtime Clippers’ executive Elgin Baylor. Both charges involved raical discrimination. The NBA did nothing.
Now, based on private conversations which were made public, the NBA has brought down the hammer. It came late, but good for the NBA. Silver became a star with his performance during the press conference announcing Sterling’s banishment from the NBA. It was a tour de force, and a defining moment, for the new commissioner.
But does the ruling set a dangerous precedent? Like Mark Cuban asked, has a slippery slope been established? Shaquille O’Neal, who is a minority owner in the Sacramento Kings, just this week posted a picture of himself mocking a disabled fan’s selfie. Should O’Neal now be forced to sell his stake in the Kings?
What if some owner makes an off-the-cuff private disparaging remark, or uses a slur, in regards to gay people, Mexicans, women, or bald people (yes, me)? Where do we draw the line?
Players knew what Sterling was all about. That didn’t stop them from cashing checks with his signature on it. Doc Rivers left a cushy job with the Boston Celtics to go to the Clippers. He even broke his contract here to force a trade to go there. Rivers then signed a three-year, $21 million contract with the Clippers. Now he is being portrayed as a beacon among the Clippers for those who stood up to Sterling in light of this controversy.
The story has taken on a life of its own. It has become bigger than Sterling. What started out as a private, dinner-table discussion between two people has turned into a referendum on racial relations in the United States. Oprah Winfrey, Al Sharpton, every NBA player, and even President Obama have all weighed in.
Meanwhile, the Clippers are having their best season ever. Sports are supposed to be an escape from everyday political rhetoric that happens. Can we, please, get back to that? I was enjoying the NBA playoffs prior to the Sterling audiotapes coming to light. Can I please get back to enjoying watching millionaire basketball players trying to win games for their billionaire owners?