The NBA playoffs have been absolutely fantastic this season. With tight first round matchups and close exciting games, they have been able to capture the attention of fans across the country. Despite the buzz generated by these games, the most pressing story surrounding the NBA has been that of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Sterling, a former lawyer and real estate developer, bought the Clippers back in 1981 for 12.5 million dollars and is the longest living tenured owner.
Last week, TMZ Sports released a nine minute recording of a conversation between Sterling and his girlfriend, V. Stiviano. The two began to argue as Sterling spewed words of hate, obliviousness and horrific racism. Among other things, Sterling told her that he was bothered that she wanted to “broadcast that [she was] associating with black people” and that she could do “whatever she wanted” with them but she should “not bring them to [his] games.”
Sterling made his prejudice extremely clear throughout the conversation, even commanding her to keep NBA Hall-of-Famer Magic Johnson away from Clipper games. Perhaps the most tragic and frustrating part about Sterling’s words and views is that this TMZ tape is not the first time they have been publicized.
In 2009, NBA Hall-of-Famer and former Clippers executive Elgin Baylor sued Sterling over racial discrimination, telling him, among other things, that he wanted a team full of “poor black boys from the South and a white head coach” and that he was “offering a lot of money for a poor black kid.” In 2006, the US Department of Justice sued him as well, claiming that he used racial discrimination while filling some of his apartment buildings. Sterling apparently refused to rent to African Americans in Beverly Hills and non-Koreans in a Koreatown neighborhood. He claimed that he did not like to rent to Hispanics as they simply “smoke, drink and hang around the buildings” and that “black tenants smell and attract vermin.” While Sterling eventually wound up paying several million dollars, little noise was made. As if these isolated lawsuits were not enough for people to doubt the character of this horrid figure, isolated incidents surrounding the Clippers paint an even more disgusting picture. Among other things, Sterling reportedly used to bring women into the Clippers’ locker room after games, exclaiming “look at those beautiful black bodies.” This happened multiple times.
Sterling is a terrible human being who does not deserve to be anywhere near the Los Angeles Clippers organization. While he should have been removed from his position of power years ago, the NBA now has a golden opportunity to remove him swiftly and completely. Support for the Clippers’ players and the league as a whole against this tyrant has been tremendous and unified. Magic Johnson has publicly stated that he will never go to another Clippers game as long as Sterling is the owner.
There was also a rumor that Johnson recently expressed his interest in buying the Clippers along with billionaire partners, the Guggenheim brothers. Yet Johnson quickly dispelled this through his Twitter. Ironically and surprisingly, Sterling was scheduled to receive a lifetime achievement award from the NAACP, and not so surprisingly, he will no longer receive said award. For game four of their first round series, the Clippers themselves, in a unified and dignified manner, protested by throwing their warmup jerseys down on the middle of the court and proceeded to wear their practice jerseys inside out as to not display the name “Clippers.”
The Heat followed suit during their game four warmups. There will no doubt be an outpour of responses throughout the league in the coming weeks. Many have urged the Clippers to perhaps boycott a game or the playoffs in general.
Head coach Doc Rivers has even stated that he would not be back next year had Sterling still been the owner. Yet impactfulness had to also come from the league itself and new NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
Silver immediately scheduled a press conference regarding the situation, yet disappointingly stated that there would be no further sanctions until the situation had undergone a full investigation. While what Silver said is perhaps the right thing from a strictly legal standpoint, the fact that Donald Sterling is a despicable person is undisputed.
Thankfully, this past Tuesday, the NBA announced that they will ban Sterling from the league for life and fine him 2.5 million dollars. While this amount of money is somewhat insignificant for Sterling, it is the maximum fine allowed under NBA rules. The money will be donated to anti-discrimination groups. NBA Players Association VP Roger Mason had made it clear that players were prepared to boycott the playoffs had the NBA not taken swift action.
Silver’s swift action was by all means the right decision. He and the league will now work to force a sale of the team. The hypothetical Magic Johnson purchasing plan proves an intriguing and redemptive solution. Yet anything to get Sterling away from the Clippers, NBA basketball, and hopefully, the public sphere was by far the most important decision and one the league needed to make.