The Obligatory Donald Sterling Discussion

April 29th, 2014 by Nate Smith

Editors Note: The following is a dialogue and an amalgamation of chats written over a couple of days between Tom Pestak and Nate Smith. The topic of discussion: Donald Sterling and the L.A. Clippers.  As such, it was edited to include topical information, such as Adam Silver’s press conference on Tuesday. Please note that all opinions expressed are solely Tom’s and Nate’s and are independent of opinions of the rest of the CtB staff or our affiliates.

Nate Smith: I know. I know. It seems everyone who’s anyone in the NBA has a take on Donald Sterling’s racists comments to his mistress V. Stiviano and on the lifetime ban imposed by Adam Silver. The tale has it all: a ribald March-December affair, a filthy rich villain getting his comeuppance, an aggrieved fan-base, a jilted wife, and superstar NBA players caught in the middle of it all. Sterling’s comments strip off thin veneer of civility covering the ugly racial tensions just under the surface of our public discourse… It’s no wonder that the story has touched off such a firestorm. But, Tom, as anyone who’s followed the Clippers for any length of time knows, we should have seen this coming. Sterling is a sleazebag, and he has been for years. The New York Times published a litany of his years of offensive behavior, Monday.

In 2009, Sterling paid a $2.725 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by the Justice Department accusing him of systematically driving African-Americans, Latinos and families with children out of apartment buildings he owned.

That racist pattern of action is much more reprehensible than Sterling’s racist comments. Multiple ex-Clippers have commented over the years, on what a D-bag Don Sterling is. Former franchise centerpiece, Elton Brand noted, Monday, that “there have been allegations for many, many years and nothing has been done.” This Deadspin article entitled, “Donald Sterling is a Sack of S**t Part 982,” details Sterling’s verbal abuse of Baron Davis during Baron’s time with the Clips, and the article is from 2010. What’s my point? It’s hard to feel bad for stars like Doc Rivers and Chris Paul who chose to work for a man known to be a racist <insert epithet here>.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in Time magazine, had possibly the definitive opinion on the Sterling fiasco.

What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair isn’t just his racism. I’m bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise. Now there’s all this dramatic and very public rending of clothing about whether they should keep their expensive Clippers season tickets. Really? All this other stuff I listed above has been going on for years and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge? That’s the smoking gun?

And, yes, perhaps, this is proverbial straw that broke the Camel’s back — the tipping point in the court of public opinion. But it’s public record that Elgin Baylor and Mike Dunleavy have both sued Sterling for failure to honor contracts, pay salaries, and act like a decent human being. The the people who are working for Sterling, now, should have heeded the warning: caveat mercennarius (worker beware).

Baron Davis, Doc Rivers, Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, Gary Sacks and all those who signed with the Clippers instead of being traded there or drafted by the organization, chose to work for Sterling. We live in a world where it is a privilege to choose for whom we will work. Many people don’t have that option, and most will suffer indignities rather than lose their job. I certainly can’t blame a hot dog slinger or a team trainer for not quitting in protest over Sterling’s comments. As for organizing boycotts of games to “punish” Sterling, that seems a bit ridiculous, too. (And now that he’s been punished by the NBA, mostly moot). Were we going to harm the ticket scalper, the skybox bartender, the prime rib slicer, the cab drivers, etc. over something Sterling said? (and not, you know, what he’s actually done like discriminate against minorities in apartment rentals)?

Tom Pestak: Nate, “Chose to work for Donald Sterling”? Charles Barkley said it yesterday, most of these players don’t even know who the Clippers owner is. (Was?) You’re “blaming the victim.” And if someone wants to pay me five million dollars a year and he hates Catholics? I’ll make sure to forget to send a Christmas card. You don’t have to like the owner of your company. The owner of your company doesn’t have to like you. Just because Donald Sterling cuts the checks doesn’t mean Doc Rivers was actively working with him. Maybe the Clips GM is a good dude. I’m a federal employee. I don’t agree with many of the people that in some convoluted way are my superiors. But my direct boss that I answer to every day is a great human being. So it’s easy to come to work. Ya know? And for a few million bucks my boss could be LeBron – I’d get over it.

But, professionalism demands respect, and clearly, any respect or goodwill Donald Sterling may have had (you get the sense that he didn’t have much to begin with) was shattered the moment that recording went viral. This is an ugly incident to be sure, by an ugly dude, but I believe it’s more isolated than the hyperventilating/homogenous sports-media would have us presume. I keep hearing it’s an NBA problem. What? It became obvious moments after the detonation that as angry and insulted as players, coaches, owners were, they expressed the utmost confidence in Adam Silver to take control and make it right. Their trust was rewarded today with Silver doling out a lifetime ban and rallying the owners to oust Sterling, which will (I guarantee) be a 100% vote for his ousting.

Do you think the league should go around and start interviewing all the owners; figure out which ones may say something offensive, and force them to sell to more politically correct and media savvy folk? Nate, how does this make you feel about hidden cameras, off the record statements, and just general invasion of privacy? For the longest time, I’ve been of the belief that there’s nothing to worry about if you have nothing to hide. I have friends and colleagues that I mock as tin-hat wearing paranoids because they are so terrified of things like the NSA “scandal”. But I gotta say, I’m watching the world change and it’s a bit…unnerving. The IRS targeting was particularly spooky, as was the Brendan Eich incident. Being blacklisted/fired/punished/mob-attacked for personal opinions seems to go against the core of America. I agree with Cuban, people have a right to be morons. I support Adam Silver and the NBA’s decision in this case, but I’d like to think of it as a lifetime achievement ban, and not the beginning of the age where private conversations between people are used to destroy them. Thoughts? Am I the tin-hat guy now?

Any owner with sentiments like Cuban, that policing/punishing thought is a slippery slope, knows better than to stand up for principle and due process when the mob is outside with pitchforks. And anyways, there is a very tangible incentive here to “do something” to show support for black athletes/coaches/executives. Not only would the brand be damaged if there was even the perception that owners harbored racist sympathies, but the players would revolt, some demanding professional respect, others egged on by the mob. I’ve grown increasingly weary of mob rule that seems ever more prescient, but I also like watching bad guys get killed in movies. In this case the mob got the right guy – cheers and applause.  And good move, Adam Silver, way to unite your league. Now get this over with and let’s have a worthy memorial for Dr. Jack Ramsay and enjoy some more epic playoff games.

But do you think Clippers fans should be ashamed for supporting the team for all these decades? Knowing what kind of person their owner was? Here’s what Kareem posted on his Facebook wall.

In the meantime, we all need to continue to support the Clippers,who clearly are enduring a moral crisis. At a time like this, it’s important that they remember that, though the team is owned by Sterling, they are not defined by him anymore than Americans are defined by any one elected official. The players are defined by their actions. And right now their actions should reflect their commitment to the fans and to showing the world that the players live up to the principles of equality

Nate Smith: The mob mentality and collective action are effective tools (along with a strong, empowered executive). Donald Sterling is going to be ousted because he’s harming the NBA brand, and he’s costing these other owners money. I know you are sick of witch hunts, but we’re both glad to see a guy go down because he uttered some virulently racist sentiments, and that everyone has said, “enough is enough.” I just wish it had happened sooner. But yeah, Tom, the Clippers fans should be ashamed.We should all be ashamed, and not just for supporting the Clippers’ racist owner all these years. In fact, as to your question, “should we go around interviewing owners for offensive viewpoints,” one doesn’t have to interview them,they’re a Google search away. I mean, these alleged 2009 comments by Clay Bennett about OKC’s Crooked Oak High cheerleaders don’t exactly seem savory.

I mean one looked at me with a wig on, and as white as paper, then you had a pakistani, an anorexoic black girl, and a black midget with a pickle in her hand the whole time.

Full disclosure here, I loathe Clay Bennett and the ownership group of the Thunder. They stole the Thunder from Seattle. Co-owners Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward are unrepentant polluters, as founders of Chesepeake Energy. And McClendon and Ward have given over a hundred million dollars to anti-gay groups. Can we take them down, next?

I was arguing with someone on the blog the other day about our own Dan Gilbert. Did you know that Quicken Loans has been found guilty of being a predatory lender? Dan Gilbert is not without sin. His latest campaign to keep taxpayers paying for the upkeep of Cleveland Sports arenas seems of self-serving moral fiber. And let’s look at some of these other guys. Surely, as a Russian oligarch, Mikhail Prokhorov’s past is blemished. After all, do we want a purported pimp and crook to be running an NBA team and transferring ownership of it to Crimea annexing Russia through shell companies? Mark Cuban, alleged (exonerated) inside trader? Michael Jordan, degenerate gambler from the 90s? We need the pitchforks to run these guys out, too.

Oy. From the looks of these last two paragraphs, it seems like I’m sticking up for Sterling. I’m not. My point is that people do have a responsibility to know who they’re working for and supporting judging the ethics of the situation from what they know. At the lower end of the spectrum, poorer people have much less ability to be discerning, and, often, multi-billion-dollar businesses are set up to make it hard to know who you’re working for and who you’re buying from. Large organizations are set up to compartmentalize the people at the top from ugly day-to-day operations at the peripheries. It’s all about plausible deniability. David Stern, Doc Rivers, Adam Silver, and every one else kept themselves willfully ignorant on Sterling for years. In the same way, it’s comical in a way that we’re going after Sterling when NBA players are given millions by shoe companies that exploit workers around the world. Take the recent work stoppages at Chinese shoe factories.

Teresa Cheng, an organizer with the International Union League for Brand Responsibility, slammed Adidas for moving some of its orders.

“This is the typical behavior of Adidas,” she said. “Adidas systematically withdraws its orders and moves them to factories with more exploitative conditions, essentially punishing workers who dare to stand up to sweatshop abuse.”

Heck, as Americans, we are guilty of supporting slave labor around the world. Phillip Morris, Microsoft, Apple, HP, Hershey’s… It doesn’t seem as if too many of us are “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” So, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” and all that. I’m all for mob justice collective activism, but if you look at any of us, we’re guilty. By-and-large, we have abdicated our responsibility to make sure the sources and destinations of our money are ethical entities. It’s good that we have the Donald Sterlings of the world to be our scapegoats. The goats keep us from looking in the mirror for too long.

Tom Pestak: The Clippers fans should not feel ashamed. Come on, Nate. Look, I’m glad we settle our differences these days with angry tweets and refusing to buy Chick Fil-A or watching whatever reality tv star recently offended someone. It sure beats killing each other in the streets (I think). But I’ve noticed these political forces swallowing up the sports world and I’d REALLY like them to just leave. Seriously, go home. Feels like a day doesn’t go by where the sports world isn’t swallowed up in some political controversy. Race wars, pin the tail on the homophobe, culture wars, mascots, college athlete’s workers rights (oh my eyes, how did I roll them so far back…), sin taxes, gun laws (seriously?), captain planet villains, NCAA conference/Media collusion, women’s everything…. and on and on and on.

Do you understand the point of sports fandom, Nate? It’s a tribal rallying around a team, and since its existence, the rallying is done based on geography and club membership. You live in Brooklyn, you root for the Dodgers. You went to Ohio State, you root for the Buckeyes. You have a sense of collective ownership and rooting interest. Sometimes you have to face the harsh realities of pro sports. “It’s a business” and all that. But do we really need to start injecting our own personal politics into whether or not we root for a team? Wasn’t it sports that brought blacks and whites together in America? Liberals and Conservatives? People of all faiths? Am I not doing my due-diligence now unless I investigate the character and/or cultural “progressivism” of the majority owner of my teams? Do I really need to get to the bottom of Dan Gilbert’s business ethics? I’m completely against gambling in all forms, and was not happy about casinos coming to Ohio. You know what? I still like Dan, I think he’s a good sports owner, and frankly, what else do I need to concern myself with? Since Donald Sterling’s racism and general disrespect for humanity was the worst kept secret in the NBA, I’m sure many Clippers fans knew their owner. And you know what? They probably thought “[sigh] Our owner is a prick, whattya gonna do?” I’d rather not have to explain NAFTA to my kids when I take them to their first game – rather focus on the beauty of a no-look pass, the unselfishness of taking a charge, etc.

For many of us with our deeply held anxieties about the world, sports is an outlet. Why are we allowing Donald Sterling to ruin that? He’s not worth it. Clippers fans should support their team and their coach. Their team and their coach were disrespected — “hated on” even. Get fired up, Clips fans – bring your team home. Stick it to you (soon to be) former owner.

Nate Smith: I agree, you can’t solve every problem in the world by deciding what kind of soap to buy, what browser you’ll surf with, and whether or not you’re going to wear your Clippers jersey inside out or not. Sports are an escape and they have helped advance race relations in America. Further, you can’t solve the endemic problems with race and inequality in the NBA, the U.S., and the world at large by making an example of an 81 year old buffoon. In many ways, this whole incident is a way for the NBA to sweep its dirt under the rug. We can now declare Sterling as the embodiment of evil. For a while, nobody will talk about how the NBA is the most intentionally oblivious major sports league when it comes to steroids, or about how the mostly black players were fleeced by the mostly white owners out of hundreds of millions of dollars in the last collective bargaining agreement.

But in response to an earlier point you made, the fact that this all came about because of a recorded conversation during which Sterling seemed to have an expectation of privacy scares the crap out of me. Yes, it appears he knew he was being recorded, but it also appears to be an intimate conversation between two (admittedly creepy) paramours. Anyone who has had a blue collar job in America, or been to a bar after midnight knows that the conversation can get pretty blue, and that race isn’t off limits. People have got to be able to talk without feeling like everything they ever said was going to be dissected.  So yeah, I hope this is a “lifetime achievement award” too, because you can’t judge a man based on one tape.

Jason Whitlock covers this sentiment better than us. The NBA pitch forkers really ought to be careful what they wish for.

From the owner’s box to the locker room, professional sports are overrun with wealthy men in complicated, volatile sexual relationships. If TMZ plans to make “pillow talk” public and the standard is set that “pillow talk” is actionable, it won’t be long before a parade of athletes joins Sterling on Ignorance Island…

The conversation revolving around Donald Sterling is unsophisticated, and so was the heavy-handed punishment. They’re driven by emotion rather than logic. It does not serve the greater good of the offended black community. Sterling is a scapegoat. He is an easy target, a decoy…

Instead, the mainstream fanned the flames, enraging the angry black mob looking for a quick solution, a sacrificial lamb — and now, by the end of the week, we’ll be back to business as usual, pretending the stoning of Sterling harmed the culture that created him.

I wish I could just print all of Whitlock’s piece verbatim, and I’ve never been a Whitlock fan, but he nailed it. Bomani Jones on the Dan LeBatard show, yesterday, spent ten minutes talking about the utter ridiculousness of the Sterling fiasco.

I’m supposed to get charged up because Donald Sterling said his rich friends don’t want his black mistress to be around black people. People need to get their heads out their klabens… what he [Sterling] said was impolite. It was gauche. That’s what their problem is. But when Donald Sterling was out here toying with people’s lives… the media, the NBA, the sponsors, and all these people now who want to get patted on the back for what good people they are didn’t say a mumblin’ word. They can all kiss my behind.

Amen.

And now, as I sit here watching the beginning of the Warriors/Clippers game, replete with celebrities, community leaders, a moment of silence, a stirring televised national anthem… Everyone is talking about how the healing can begin. Rochelle Sterling and Magic Johnson probably need to heal more than anyone. I still don’t have much sympathy for Doc Rivers, the same guy who plead obliviousness to bailing on Boston’s rebuilding scenario, but I do empathize with his probably palpable sense of regret. I’m sure he spent the last few days wondering why the hell he got involved with this racist idiot, and feeling guilt for recruiting players to play for this chump. But Rivers, Silver, Stern: they’re now absolved. They excised their sacrificial ram. And no one’s weeping for Sterling. He’ll collect a billion dollars and ride off into a sunset with another in his string of mistresses. (OK, why is Rochelle still married to this guy?)

A couple minutes into the first quarter, DeAndre Jordan just threw Draymond Green to the ground while grabbing a rebound. I don’t think there’s any way the NBA is letting the Warriors win this game. So yeah, let’s hope this game is cathartic for the Clippers, the NBA, their fans. I am simultaneously appalled at the spectacle, and skeptical — but hopeful –  that the whole fiasco is a catalyst for real change.

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