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Monday, April 28, 2014

Tarnished Sterling

TMZ released an audio recording purportedly of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist statements while arguing with his then-girlfriend, V. Stiviano. Some of the sentiments expressed on the recording include Sterling, who is white, allegedly telling Stiviano not to bring any black people to Clippers game, including Basketball Hall of Famer and Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Magic Johnson. He also expressed wishes for Stiviano not to "broadcast" pictures of herself with black people on Instagram.

The nine-and-a-half minute recording can be heard in its entirety in the YouTube upload of this past Saturday's Louisiana All American Sports radio show at the 39:00 mark. Sterling, allegedly, is heard repeatedly asking Stiviano to not associate with minorities. He cites his "culture". He then goes into a disorganized, almost nonsensical sociology monologue about Blacks and Latinos and how "things have always been". Stiviano is half Black and half Mexican.

Maybe Sterling really doesn't see color. Psst! Donny boy. You're girlfriend is (half) black (gasp)! 1

I received a text early Saturday morning from my Internet and radio broadcast partner, Perry Daniels, about the Sterling story. As soon as I saw Sterling's name in the hyperlink to the story, before even reading it, I thought, "What did this known a-hole do this time?" I wasn't quite prepared for the bombshell that followed, but I was not exactly in a state of disbelief, either.

Sterling has been sued and settled out of court for a record payoff, just short of $3 million, in a housing discrimination suit. Basketball Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor,  a former Clippers executive under Sterling, sued Sterling for withheld pay and also alleged racial biases in the Clippers' workplace tied to Sterling. In short, this isn't the first time with Sterling.

Sterling is possibly one of the least liked owners in the NBA by all accounts. His team was a laughing stock for decades before acquiring current Head Coach Doc Rivers and All-Stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. His reputation for penny pinching to the detriment of his NBA organization preceded him. Since this story broke, a story was reported on sports radio that the other NBA owners tied to rid themselves of Sterling in the past by "encouraging" him to sell.

This type of black eye on the league via Donald Sterling was a long time coming.

Adam Silver didn't start it, but, taking him at his word, he's going to finish it. 2


NBA Commissioner Adam Silver vowed to respond swiftly and aggressively to this image crisis. Clippers players have already made symbolic statements like wearing black socks and wristbands and wearing their warm-up tee shirts inside-out before Sunday's Game 4 of their first round matchup with the Golden State Warriors. Doc Rivers has acknowledged the distraction that this is become but also said, "We have a job to do." Rivers, a former NBA player, by all accounts is very respected by his players and the Clippers players appear to be following Coach Rivers' lead.

Given the highly competitive nature of Western Conference basketball and the razor-thin gaps in talent from top-to-bottom between teams, this distraction could be enough to tip the scales on the court and preclude the Clippers from winning an NBA Championship (possibly preclude them from advancing past the Warriors in the first round). The possibility of the players union filing a grievance and asking for players to have the power to opt out of their contracts should Sterling retain ownership is not far fetched. The Clippers have, overnight, become the least attractive free agency destination in the NBA. This would make offseason player personnel improvements very difficult, particularly in a league in which roughly 80% of its players are Black.

Doc Rivers is not a miracle worker, but he'll have to come close to it to salvage his team's playoff run. 3

Should the TMZ recording be authenticated, which I suspect it will, in the absence of a really good explanation, Sterling has to go, immediately. The NBA probably cannot force Sterling to sell his team (I am not familiar with the NBA's bylaws) but they can compel him to do so by creating an environment in which continued ownership of the Clippers is not desirable to Sterling.

There is no room in pro sports, especially in a league like the NBA that has an image of earning an A+ in diversity over the years. The more swift, decisive, and appropriate a resolution is reaching in this incident, the faster the crisis will be behind the league and its players, coaches, and owners. It is my hope that Adam Silver backs up his bold and unequivocal proclamation over the weekend to respond to these events with action.
Ironic? The league wants to get rid of Donald Sterling, independent of this scandal. Another  Los Angeles franchise turned its public image around overnight with a change in ownership. That same ownership group has D..E..E..P pockets and is rumored to want to get his foot into the door of the NBA. Cue Alanis Morissette. Just sayin'.... 4
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