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Commentary: Excommunication of a racist NBA owner
Published on May 2, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Anthony L Hall

[Author’s note: I wrote a series of relatively short commentaries over the past week as the international scandal involving the owner of the LA Clippers, Donald Sterling, unfolded. I have compiled them here in chronological order.]
 

Your photos with blacks, including Magic Johnson, embarrass me

April 26

hall.jpg
Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant - headquartered in Washington DC - who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at http://ipjn.com
Making celebrities of idiots who say or do things that have no socially redeeming value has become a defining feature of social media. Far worse, though, is the way mainstream media now cover these idiots as if their ignorant rantings and contrived antics are truly newsworthy.

This was brought into distressing relief over the past few days when President Obama’s historic trip to Asia had to compete for media coverage -- even on NBC -- with some deadbeat, redneck Nevada rancher who reportedly feels entitled to graze his cows on federal land free of charge and thinks blacks were better off during slavery.

Whereas, but for the media making him a cause célèbre, US Marshals would have set him straight with no national fuss, leaving only his unfortunate friends and neighbors to suffer his asinine thoughts about the welfare of blacks. (I refuse to dignify him by mentioning his name, let alone commenting any further.)

On the other hand, having the owner of a major American enterprise, like an NBA team, spout similar thoughts about blacks is clearly newsworthy. Therefore, I fully expect all media to have a field day covering the (alleged) rantings of the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, which went viral yesterday. I’m convinced it’s him, and shall proceed accordingly.

Here, courtesy of TMZ.com, is just a little of the racist admonition he was caught on tape giving, ironically enough, to his half-black, half-Hispanic girlfriend. She, evidently, has the embarrassing habit (for him) of publishing Instagram photos of herself in the company of black people:

It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people…

You can sleep with [black people] … you can bring them in, you can do whatever you want; the little I ask you is not to promote it on that [Instagram] and not to bring them to my games.

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.

This really does not require much comment. I gather that Magic has reacted by saying he will not attend another Clippers game as long as Sterling is team owner. But, as long as he’s team owner, that should be the least of it.

Here are three things that should happen, immediately:

1. Magic should call for an outright boycott by all Clippers fans. I’m sure most Whites are just as outraged but, like Magic, no self-respecting black should support a team with an owner so racist he doesn’t even want blacks in his arena. And I urge Magic to do so before Rev. Al Sharpton turns this sympathetic cause into yet another self-aggrandizing spectacle.

2. Team leaders Chris Paul and Blake Griffin should organize a strike. No playoff game is worth playing for an owner who clearly thinks of his black players as nothing more than glorified (and overpaid) slaves.

3. The commissioner should forfeit his ownership with fair compensation in the interest of the NBA. (The commissioner of Major League Baseball set an instructive precedent by prevailing upon Marge Schott to sell her interest in the Cincinnati Reds after she was caught making similarly offensive anti-Semitic and anti-Asian comments.)

Frankly, these are no-brainers. After all, here’s what I called for when Donald Trump began spouting his semi-racist rantings about Barack Obama:

I urge all of the rich folks he depends on to patronize his eponymous resorts and buy up his eponymous condominiums to begin shunning him just as they would a half-baked racist like David Duke. And I urge this especially of the black Hollywood and sports stars he likes to feature as extras in his one-man freak show.

Furthermore, given that CBS fired Charlie Sheen from ‘One and a Half Men’ for hurling anti-Semitic remarks at a TV producer; NBC should feel compelled to fire Trump from ‘The Apprentice’ for slandering the president in this fashion.

So, here’s to this fiendishly thin-skinned huckster having his trademark words thrown back in his face: Trump, you’re fired!

(“Trump for President? Don’t Be a Sucker,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 8, 2011)

No matter how this Sterling mess unfolds, I’d be shocked and dismayed if he still has his NBA team or his black-Hispanic girlfriend this time … next week.

But let me hasten to clarify that the takeaway from this story should not be Sterling’s pathetic, hypocritical, misogynistic, chauvinistic, and racist admonition to his girlfriend. It should be what his admonition betrays about the insidious strain of covert racism that runs so blithely through this ostensibly non-racist white man … and others like him (We have to wonder now, don’t we?).

Not to mention the slave master-like contradiction inherent in Sterling fearing mortal embarrassment by having his black-Hispanic girlfriend post pictures of herself with blacks online, yet proudly showing off this black-Hispanic girl like a trophy wife everywhere he goes.

Incidentally, he’s 80; she looks 25. This says all one needs to know about the kind of woman she is, which I suppose makes betraying her sugar daddy of four years in this fashion not principled or personal, just business.

In any event, I would be remiss not to note that my Jewish friends are particularly distressed that this Jew has been caught spewing racist bile that would make even a neo-Nazi wince. Especially given that section of the audiotape where Sterling is heard rationalizing his racism by declaring that in Israel white Jews treat black Jews like dogs.

This gives a sense of the Solomonic challenge Jewish commissioner Adam Silver faces in sanctioning Sterling in a manner that not only respects his ownership rights, but also satisfies the justifiably outraged black players who constitute almost 80 percent of the NBA. (Yes, Silver bears an uncanny resemblance to the pitchfork-holding husband in Grant Wood’s classic painting, “American Gothic.”)

Also, the irony is not lost on me that this racial flare up comes on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling this week that it’s perfectly legal for states to ban affirmative action based on race in college admissions.

Michael Jordan weighs in

April 27

Michael is the only black majority owner in the NBA. He owns the Charlotte Bobcats. As entertaining as I found him as a player, however, I held nothing but contempt for Michael as a person. Not least because his refusal to speak out on racial issues of the day suggested a craven willingness to associate even with the grand wizard of the KKK if that would promote his brand or line his pockets.

I remember well back in 1990 when black Harvey Gantt tried to unseat white Jesse Helms, the notoriously Dixie-whistling, overtly racist Republican senator from North Carolina. Naturally, Gantt sought Michael’s endorsement. Michael refused, insisting rather infamously, “Republicans buy sneakers too.” Gantt lost.

Now, can you imagine Barack Obama asking Oprah to endorse him in 2008 and having Oprah refuse, telling him that Republicans watch her show too?

This is why, despite everyone from Shaq to President Obama speaking out against Sterling’s racist comments (and Kobe saying he would strike if he were a Clipper), I did not expect Michael to utter a single word. I felt certain he would want to avoid alienating fellow NBA owners and white fans who hold similar views.

This, after all, would’ve been entirely consistent with the contempt he showed as a player for matters of race. But it would also have been consistent with the contempt he has shown since then as a peddler of his retro Air Jordans -- even refusing to speak out when poor black kids actually died trying to get their hands on one of his obscenely priced sneakers.

Imagine how heartened and encouraged I was, therefore, when I read the following statement Michael issued this afternoon damning Sterling in no uncertain terms:

There is no room in the NBA -- or anywhere else -- for the kind of racism and hatred that Mr Sterling allegedly expressed. I am appalled that this type of ignorance still exists within our country and at the highest levels of our sport. In a league where the majority of players are African-American, we cannot and must not tolerate discrimination at any level.

(The Associated Press, April 27, 2014)

Of course, this change might only reflect his perverse regard for the mercenary prerogatives that exist between NBA owner and NBA player. Or is that between master and servant? Whatever the case, with Michael joining the ranks of those of us calling for Sterling’s ouster, I am now convinced, more than ever, that it’s not a matter of if the NBA will force him out, but when.

In the meantime, I would be even more heartened and encouraged if prominent white folks, especially professional athletes, joined the chorus of blacks condemning Sterling. It clearly speaks volumes that none of the NBA’s white owners seem outraged enough to do so….

Mavericks Owner Offers Self-Incriminating Defense of Sterling

April 29

How many people are bigoted in one way or the other in this league? I don’t know. But you find one, all of a sudden you say well, you can’t play favorites being racist against African-Americans. Where do you draw the line?

(Huffington Post, April 28, 2014)

This, in essence, is how Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, defended the ownership interest of Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers.

In fairness to Cuban, I should stipulate that he routinely demonstrates that there’s nothing he would not do or say for attention. This is why cameras spend almost as much time on him as they do on players whenever his Mavericks are playing. Frankly, only Donald Trump is a bigger attention-seeking buffoon.

But if Cuban does not know where to draw the line in this case, then every black who plays for him, as well as every black who cheers for his team, should draw that line for him.

Evidently, he has no problem associating with a racist like Sterling because he thinks every NBA owner should be entitled to spew such racist bile in private. For Cuban, ownership entitles Sterling to speak of his black players as if he were a nineteenth-century plantation owner and they his slaves. Except that he’s now reinforcing the unsettling fears about closeted-racists masquerading as white bosses, colleagues, and friends that I alluded to in my April 26 commentary above.

Cuban has put the NBA, and Jordan in particular, in an untenable position. After all, there’s little difference in the level of disgust one should have for a racist like Sterling and that which one should have for anyone so ignorant, arrogant, and insensitive as to publicly defend him.

It speaks volumes that Mercedes-Benz, CarMax, Virgin America, Sprint, Amtrak, Corona, CarMax, Red Bull and many more corporations have decided to blackball Sterling’s team. They did so because they clearly know where to draw the line when it comes to associating with an owner like him. That Cuban does not damns him more than he appears to appreciate. But he has now given his sponsors and advertisers just cause to blackball him too.

Finally, for anyone who thinks Cuban has a valid point, know this: Arguing that Sterling should not be forced to relinquish ownership for expressing racist bile he thought would remain private, is every bit as specious as arguing that Nixon should not have been forced to resign for conspiring to pervert the political process because he thought his incriminating words would remain private.

It is a given that people are entitled to their private thoughts, no matter how repugnant. But, once those thoughts become public (regardless of how), we have a duty to draw a red line. Because only this will convey, in no uncertain terms, that some thoughts so offend all notions of our common humanity that those who hold them should enjoy no position of honor or respect (as a private businessman or public official) in our society. Period!

NBA Commissioner Hands Down Death Penalty

Later Same Day

Effective immediately, I am banning Mr Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA. Mr Sterling may not attend any NBA games or practices; he may not be present at any Clippers facility; and he may not participate in any business or player personnel decisions.

As for Mr Sterling’s ownership interests, I will urge the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force the sale of the team and I will do everything in my power to make sure that happens.

(CNN, April 29, 2014)

I am pleased that, in meting out this punishment, which included a maximum fine of $2.5 million, Commissioner Silver did what I called on him to do (in my April 26 commentary above) to the letter.

But I am also heartened that, while announcing this punishment, Silver evinced the tortured spirit I indicated he would feel. This was especially evident when he stressed throughout his opening statement how "personally outraged [and] distressed" he was, as well as when a reporter asked him later to comment on the fact that he and Sterling are both Jews.

That said, I have only a few points to add:

• I took a little flak this morning for lambasting Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for propagating the view that forcing Sterling to sell his team was not the way to go because it would constitute a “slippery slope.” But nothing vindicates my dismissing Cuban as an “attention-seeking buffoon” quite like him tweeting the following about-face at 2:19 this afternoon -- even before Silver completed his opening statement:

I agree 100% with Commissioner Silver’s findings and the actions taken against Donald Sterling.

But, trust me, Cuban is not the only defender of Sterling’s ownership interest who will be making this about-face. It’s just that none of them will be quite so brazen and shameless in doing so.

• Having punished Sterling so severely, Silver has given himself a much stronger hand to discipline players for unsportsmanlike conduct on the court, as well as conduct unbecoming off the court. It seems every player in the league is hailing him today as a great leader; but notice has been served.

• Much has been made of the millions Sterling donated to black charities over the years. Well, here’s how one of California’s tech billionaires can earn himself (Mark Zuckerberg) or herself (Sheryl Sandberg) public goodwill beyond measure: Make a public pledge to compensate any charity that wants to cleanse itself of Sterling’s tainted largesse any amount it chooses to return to him.

This, coupled with his NBA banishment, should effectively excise his racist DNA from public life.

Good riddance, Mr. Sterling.

UPDATE

Players planned strike

April 30

Commissioner Silver effectively resolved this issue yesterday by executing the third of my three-point recommendations -- as presented in my April 26 commentary above. But I think it’s worth noting not only that fans were preparing to execute my first point, a boycott, but also that the players were preparing to execute my second point, a strike, as well:

Players' union Vice President Roger Mason Jr. said Tuesday he spoke to representatives from every playoff team about the possibility of boycotting the upcoming postseason games in solidarity against any ruling that didn't include a mandate for Sterling to sell the Clippers.

‘We didn't think that this was just a Clippers issue, so we didn't want to put the pressure on Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and that team. We wanted to band behind our brothers to do the right thing.’

(Huffington Post, April 29, 2014)

 
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