You know this NBA brouhaha is big when Michael Jordan, who avoided social commentary like the plague as a superstar player, feels compelled now as a league owner to publicly rip the bigot that is Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
But let’s not reserve all condemnation on the NBA’s “Tape-Gate” firestorm for Sterling, an 81-year-old man with a long history of being a terrible owner, a slumlord, and possessor of a condescending attitude toward minorities.
Sterling is rightfully getting pounded. Sponsors like CarMax are speed-racing to either drop their ties to the Clippers or condemn Sterling, and he may soon receive his overdue comeuppance.
It depends on how NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who will address the issue Tuesday, reacts to a TMZ audio of Sterling allegedly imploring mistress V. Stiviano to, among other sentiments, not bring African-Americans to Clippers games.
Even if Sterling is forced into selling the team, which appears to be legally difficult, it doesn’t excuse how an owner with a well-documented history of racism has never been fined or suspended by the NBA for his deplorable attitude toward minorities and women.
Let’s not pretend this latest Sterling controversy is a bombshell. It follows a long-standing pattern of his bigoted views. That came to light most during testimony in a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit, which targeted him for refusing to rent to minority tenants and making life difficult for them.
Yet during 33 years of owning the Clippers, with the worst winning percentage among all teams in four major pro sports, Sterling has never been made accountable for being so intensely racist that he’d make even Archie Bunker blush.
Not once during commissioner David Stern’s 30-year tenure did he hand down any punishment. You never saw owners, perhaps not caring enough to discipline an owner whose team was perennially bad, take a stand. They just ignored Sterling’s rudeness, his casual dismissal of minorities.
I’m not sure what is more mind-boggling – that Sterling has a mistress who is part Mexican-American and African-American, or that the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP once gave him a lifetime achievement award, then had to cancel plans to give him another one after this story broke.
Sterling should no longer be welcome in any fraternity that cares about human decency. Sterling has put coach Doc Rivers, all his players, and everyone in his organization in an untenable position for the rest of the playoffs.
How can Rivers and the players, most of whom are African-American, not feel awkward or lose some mental focus for Tuesday night’s Game 5 against the Golden State Warriors as this monster distraction plays out? Rivers, known for his brutal honesty, said on a Monday conference call that he believes it was Sterling’s voice on that tape.
“I sympathize with my players, they didn’t sign on for this,” River said.
No, the blame falls on a racist pig, along with the NBA for not putting Donald Sterling in his place a long time ago.
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