Donald Sterling’s Personal Foul, Ctd


Mike Pesca thinks it was a bad call for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to impose a lifetime ban on Sterling and encourage the board of governors to force a sale of the Clippers:

A swift beheading by the commissioner robs players and fans of a chance to foment justice on their own. Silver did a favor to the Clippers players who didn’t want to be put in the uncomfortable position of having to actually do anything beyond the symbolic in opposition to Sterling’s racism. …

In accepting plaudits for serving as an exacting executioner, Silver also sidesteps the fact that his office—led by David Stern with Silver as his longtime No. 2—was for years an institutional enabler. The lesson of Donald Sterling seems to extend no further than Donald Sterling, and stretches no earlier than the revelations of the past week. In fact, injustice existed longitudinally and latitudinally, with the damage done by the NBA’s inaction reaching beyond that league’s offices. If the NBA had punished Sterling a long time ago, would Major League Baseball have approved Astros owner Jim Crane, despite his company having paid a multimillion-dollar settlement for allegedly having engaged in discriminatory behavior?

Along those lines, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar criticizes the media and the public for focusing their outrage on Sterling’s racist remarks after ignoring years of much worse behavior:

He was discriminating against black and Hispanic families for years, preventing them from getting housing. It was public record. We did nothing.

Suddenly he says he doesn’t want his girlfriend posing with Magic Johnson on Instagram and we bring out the torches and rope. Shouldn’t we have all called for his resignation back then? … So, if we’re all going to be outraged, let’s be outraged that we weren’t more outraged when his racism was first evident. Let’s be outraged that private conversations between people in an intimate relationship are recorded and publicly played. Let’s be outraged that whoever did the betraying will probably get a book deal, a sitcom, trade recipes with Hoda and Kathie Lee, and soon appear on Celebrity Apprentice and Dancing with the Stars.

Many readers are flagging a similar argument on YouTube from Bomani Jones, an ESPN radio host who wrote a column eight years ago called “Sterling’s racism should be news.” One reader adds:

Think about this. Al Sharpton was prepared to mount a boycott of the NBA’s major advertisers if the league didn’t suspend Sterling as a result of the phone call. BUT, before the phone call was revealed, Sharpton was willing to stand beside Sterling while the two were honored by the NAACP. This, in spite of the fact that Sharpton knew (or certainly should have known) Sterling’s record. Does this mean that Sharpton thinks this phone call was worse that housing and employment discrimination?

Bouie elaborates on that disconnect:

When it comes to open bigotry, everyone is an anti-racist. The same Republicans who question the Civil Rights Act and oppose race conscious policy are on the front lines when it’s time to denounce the outlandish racism of the day. …

At the same time, we all but ignore the other dimension of racism—the policies and procedures that sustain our system of racial inequality. The outrage that comes when a state representative says something stupid about professional basketball players is absent when we learn that black children are punished at dramatically higher rates than their white peers, even as preschoolers. Likewise, it’s absent when we learn that banks targeted minorities—regardless of income—for the worst possible mortgage loans, destroying their wealth in the process. In turn, this blinds us to the racial implications of actions that seem colorblind. In a world where racism looks like cartoonish bigotry, it’s hard to build broad outrage for unfair voter identification laws or huge disparities in health care access.

Meanwhile, according to Adam Serwer, “There’s a more disturbing element to the controversy that has largely escaped notice”:

Sterling’s remarks show how deep, interpersonal racism can persist despite longstanding, even intimate relationships with people of color. Stiviano, Sterling’s girlfriend, is black and Hispanic. Through his charitable foundation, Sterling has given money to organizations like the NAACP,  the United Negro College Fund, and the Black Business Association. He is the owner of a basketball team made up largely of black athletes.

Yet none of these things appear to have moderated Sterling’s feelings towards black people. This is nothing new of course – even during slavery, white plantation owners sired entire families with people they owned as chattel without ever questioning the legitimacy of a system that treated blacks as property. The “black friends” defense has become a running joke precisely because it’s equally popular and unpersuasive. Sterling’s remarks are a reminder that having black associations, friends, or even lovers, doesn’t mean you can’t still hold racist views.

A reader chimes in:

So they’re banning Sterling for life and fining him $2.5 million. Listen, I think the guy is racist as hell. But are we really convicting people without a hearing, taking away their property and fining them $2.5 million for not liking black people? Isn’t that his right? It’s odious to be a jerk, and I’m appalled, but I think people have a right to hate other people. There isn’t much record of him breaking the law in his specific duties as owner of the ball team, is there?

Again, I’m troubled by this stuff. This guy makes my skin crawl. And the Mozilla guy who wants to ban my own marriage, yuck, but doesn’t he have the right to be biased too, as long as they don’t break the law? I hate that bias, and think they’re losers, but I’m uncomfortable with this witch hunt – even if they happen to be real witches.


I want to disagree with the reader who questioned “convicting people without a hearing” and talks about people’s right to be biased “as long as they don’t break the law.” That’s not what is at issue here. The NBA as an association has its own rules and regulations, which Sterling’s remarks fall afoul of, and the fine and ban are entirely an internal matter to the league. Sterling has been an NBA owner for decades; the rules are written and voted on by his peers, and enforced by an employee of the league (the commissioner) who is therefore an employee of his and of his peers’; and players and coaches are routinely held to these standards of public conduct (albeit for lesser offenses). This isn’t a matter of legal or governmental punishment. It’s not even the same as the Eich case, precisely because there were actual pre-existing standards Sterling violated. The issue that Sterling was known to hold these views already is a valid one (the man discriminated in housing, after all), but the idea that this is somehow a violation of his rights is ridiculous.

And another:

As the news about Sterling’s comments unfolded, I too was initially uncomfortable with the “witch hunt.” But then I realized this has nothing to do with the NBA passing judgment on Sterling’s racism – and everything to do with the NBA protecting its own brand.

As the past thirty years have shown, the NBA doesn’t care about Sterling’s racism. What it does care about is the money his racism was potentially going to cost the league. The NBA very quickly realized that if they left Sterling in place – say, if they suspended him for a year, or even “indefinitely” – this issue was going to fester, advertisers were going to continue to abandon ship, and the team’s revenues (if not the league’s) would be in jeopardy.

So the NBA kicked Donald Sterling out of the club. In effect, through their behavior over the last thirty years, the other NBA owners essentially told Sterling, “Everything would have been fine if you would have just kept your mouth shut. But now you’re messing with our money, and if there’s one thing rich, white guys don’t like, it’s other people messing with their money.”

Another adds along those lines:

If the league didn’t act quickly, decisively, and harshly, this would have derailed a highly enjoyable playoffs but also led to more advertisers re-evaluating their relationship with the league in general. It also would have caused a players’ revolt. There were rumors that Golden State and the Clippers’ players were going to boycott the game in protest if the league didn’t handle it.

Basketball is a stars league (more so than any other team sport) and the stars were going to act (see LeBron and the Heat engaging in a solidarity protest before their game over the weekend). And if the players acted, the league was going to be in trouble. It could result in fewer sponsors and lower attendance/viewers. Energizing the players to act collectively is not something the owners want. If the star players were going to boycott games, it would be incredibly damaging (and all signs were pointing that way).

And don’t feel bad about Sterling – he is going to get paid north of $1 billion dollars when the team is sold (I’ve seen basketball guys like Bill Simmons estimate north of 1.5 billion). He’s being kicked out of a private, high-profile, exclusive club because he was going to hurt the overall brand of the NBA irreparably if he wasn’t.

(Chart via Mona Chalabi)