We don’t make the first move.
We sit. We wait. We let it soak in. We don’t take action until there is a reaction. We look the other way because we’re afraid of what we don’t know.
The NBA is no exception, and a prime example of today’s American society.
Donald Sterling has never been good at owning an NBA basketball team. He bought the Clippers in 1981, and up until the Clippers rare fortune landed them Blake Griffin in the 2009 NBA Draft, Sterling’s team was one of the worst in North American professional sports.
In Sterling’s 33-year reign as owner, the Clippers have lost 50 or more games 22 times, 60 or more games eight times, and they even lost 70 games in one season too.
They’ve made the playoffs only seven times during Sterling’s ownership, and they’ve never made it past the second round.
They’ve had 23 top ten picks, 13 top five picks, and three No. 1 draft picks.
They’ve had 18 different head coaches during that time span, and only one coach has lasted more than five seasons (Mike Dunleavy Sr.).
Most importantly, they’ve never won an NBA Championship, while their Staples Center tenants and fellow L.A. team, the Los Angeles Lakers, have won nine championships in that time span.
I could go on and on about how bad the Los Angeles Clippers have been with Donald Sterling as the boss, but I think you get the picture.
For 30 years, “The Other Donald” had never put together a winning team, and never really cared to either.
He’s dished out millions of dollars to underachieving players like Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, and Baron Davis. He refused to move the team when cities were begging for the Clippers, and he relished the power of being a rich man in a rich city.
Instead of attempting to put together a winning team in one of America’s best markets, Sterling used the Clippers as a point of social status. It was never hard to find Sterling, usually located on the floor of the arena with high profile celebrities and such, but it was always hard to figure out why he enjoyed watching his terrible basketball team lose so much.
Every time Sterling’s team had the chance to rebuild, they always managed to fall back apart. Danny Manning never molded into the great center he was touted to be. Michael Olowokandi was neither here nor there. And the Elton Brand signing never did more than get them to the second round of the playoffs.
After a recorded conversation between Sterling and his mysterious girlfriend V. Stiviano was released by TMZ on April 25, the answer to that question became very clear.
Donald Sterling is a racist. He has been from the day he bought the Clippers in 1981, and evermore so today.
He told his girlfriend to not bring black people to his basketball games, and told her not to promote that “image.”
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people,” he said. “Do you have to?”
Prompted by Magic Johnson tweets, protests from Doc Rivers and the Clippers basketball team, and virtually the entire country’s hatred towards a guy who thought of himself more like a plantation owner than a basketball one, newly appointed commissioner Adam Silver delivered the most brutal punishment the NBA had ever seen.
Four days after the release of the tape, Silver banned Sterling from the NBA for life, fined him $2.5 million, and said he will force Sterling to sell the team by convincing the board of governors to vote him out of the league.
But the damage had already been done.
You won’t be surprised to learn that this wasn’t the first time Sterling had said or done something racist. He has a repeated and checkered past, one that is filled with discrimination lawsuits and racist agendas.
In 2006, the U.S. Justice Department sued and accused Sterling of systematically driving African-Americans, Latinos and families with children out of apartment buildings he owned. In 2009, Sterling paid $2.725 million as part of a lawsuit settlement with the U.S. Justice Department.
In February 2009, longtime Clippers executive Elgin Baylor sued Sterling for employment discrimination on the basis of age and race. Baylor accused Sterling of wanting to fill his team with “poor black boys from the South and a white head coach”.
Former Clipper and All-Star point guard Barron Davis discussed his relationship with Sterling during a podcast on Grantland. Davis accused Sterling of calling him a “bastard,” “the devil” and “crazy” while on the court.
Sterling’s latest racial remark should be no surprise to people around the NBA. He’s been saying these things since the day he bought the Clippers for $12.5 million in 1981, and it continues today.
The general approval around the league is one of strong praise for commissioner Silver. Although I also strongly approve of Silver’s punishment and attempt to rid Sterling from the NBA, we need to ponder how we even got to this moment.
Former commissioner David Stern knew about Sterling’s racist agenda for years. He knew that Sterling was hated by his players, said racist remarks to them on the sidelines of games, and he knew that he treated his employees with disrespect and disregard.
Because Sterling was a bad owner for an even worse team, Stern looked the other way. For 30 years, Sterling was scene as the crazy guy who owned that other team in L.A.
It was only after the Clippers drafted Blake Griffin, traded for Chris Paul, and signed Doc Rivers, that the historically bad Clippers actually became a contender and formidable opponent in the Western Conference.
But was that really Sterling’s doing?
Last summer, Sterling almost halted the signing of three-point shooter and guard J.J. Reddick because he is white. Sterling was worried that Reddick would disappoint like former white player and Clipper center Chris Kaman.
Sterling’s racism is odd. Not because he is an owner in a league that is predominantly African-American, or lives in a city that is overwhelmingly liberal, but because Donald Sterling himself is a minority.
Sterling, born Donald Tokowitz, is Jewish. He grew up with two Jewish immigrants as parents, and for much of his young life grew up in poverty while facing discrimination. This great Boston Globe column further explains Sterling’s upbringing and Jewish identity.
Maybe Sterling’s rise to wealth, fame, and power changed his perception on life, but that doesn’t disregard what he has done. Sterling should’ve been out of the NBA a long time ago, years before V. Stiviano became America’s most well known mistress.
But now that Sterling is gone, what does this mean for the future of the NBA?
I’m cautious of this note. Racism still breathes heavily in sports. Homophobia too.
What does this mean for the next basketball player to tweet the N-word, a homophobic slur, and any other racially infused remark?
During the 2011 season, Kobe Bryant directed a homophobic slur on the court towards an official and was fined $100,000 but was never suspended.
Why was that incident, an NBA superstar saying the most sensitive word against homosexuals, just a slap on the wrist for Bryant?
Why do we wait for the third and fourth strike before we take action?
This isn’t just an NBA problem; this is an American problem. We don’t take action until there is reaction.
The NBA didn’t do anything about Sterling until it became their problem. They didn’t care about Donald Sterling until we did. They ignored Sterling’s racism until it affected them.
Silver did the right thing. He did all he could do. But I’m not willing to let the NBA off the hook and applaud them for making an easy decision.
It’s easy to kick out the kid nobody likes. But what if former Lakers owner Jerry Buss or New York Knicks owner James Dolan had said something like Sterling? Then what?
I would be hard pressed to believe that Silver would have the guts to kick out Buss or Dolan and force them to sell their historically significant teams if either was in the same position as Sterling.
I’m pleased to know that Donald Sterling is no longer apart of the game I love and the league I enjoy watching so much, but I’m not going to jump around and pretend like the NBA forever ridded itself of the “Sterling Effect.”
This issue won’t fade away. It will rise again.
How the NBA handles these issues moving forward is something I will be keeping a close eye on.
If you really care about the NBA, racism, and the state of affairs between powerful men in powerful places, you should too.