Let's be honest. Donald Sterling, formerly Donald Tokowitz, is a racist. Not because of the alleged comments (secretly recorded by his minority mistress) pertaining to Blacks or African Americans that were disparaging and bigoted, but because he literally holds a position that allows him to successfully subordinate and objectify the African American via his money, position, power, and ability to employ and/or fire people. That is, in my opinion, the true definition of racism. Though the conversation that was more than likely leaked to the media by his mistress as either extortion or revenge was disgustingly painful to listen to, that is the least of the problems the NBA has in regards to Sterling’s ownership of a franchise. His comments were bigoted and reeked of prejudice and stereotypical vitriol, but we, as the viewing and paying public (ticket holders, subscribers to NBA TV, and purchasers of paraphernalia), should be up in arms concerning the numerous allegations of racism and sexism in the Clippers’ front office and the racial discrimination lawsuits levied at Don in the past decade. The phone recording is spilled milk. The lawsuits and the details thereof, on the other hand, are a socioeconomic oil spill that should have been cleaned up years ago.
By now, the entire social network populace and those who have tuned in to any major media outlet in the United States has heard excerpts, if not all, of the recorded conversation between Donald Sterling and his mistress, so I won’t regurgitate the salacious rhetoric in an attempt to bolster my audience or my “shares” or my “likes”. What I will do, though, is try to articulate why this isn’t just about Sterling but about the NBA and its ownership. In 2006, the U.S. Department of justice sued Sterling for housing discrimination because of claims that he purportedly refused to rent to Latinos and Blacks, and those he did rent to, in particular Kandyce Jones. In sworn testimony, one of Sterling's top property supervisors Sumner Davenport claimed he made racist comments about black people living in one of the buildings he had just acquired: "That's because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they're not clean. ... And it's because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day." Davenport went on to testify, "Kandynce Jones' refrigerator dripped, her dishwasher was broken, and her apartment was always cold. Now it had flooded. Davenport reported what she saw to Sterling, and according to her testimony, he asked, 'Is she one of those black people that stink?' When Davenport told Sterling that Jones wanted to be reimbursed for the water damage and compensated for her ruined property, he replied: 'I am not going to do that. Just evict the bitch.'" That suit was settled for $2.765 million dollars without Sterling having to admit any liability.
In 2009, NBA legend and Hall-of-Famer Elgin Baylor, who served as Director of Basketball Operations for the Clippers for 22 years sued Donald for unlawful termination vis a’ vis age and racial discrimination. Although Baylor lost the lawsuit, disturbing commentary from individuals within the Clippers’ organization, if true, became known. Baylor stated, “[Sterling] said, 'Personally, I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players.' And I was shocked. And he looked at me and said, ‘Do you think that’s a racist statement?' I said, 'Absolutely. That’s plantation mentality.'" In the suit, Baylor also claimed that three top Clippers players — Sam Cassell, Elton Brand, and Corey Maggette — complained to him that Sterling was bringing women into the locker room to look at the players, and once said to one of the women, "Look at those beautiful black bodies." As early as 1983, two years after Donald Sterling acquired the team and was attempting to move it from San Diego to Los Angeles, he was courting NCAA championship coach Rollie Massimino in hopes of luring him to the NBA, and Massimino allegedly recalled a brief glimpse into the racial ideology of Mr. Sterling: “Here’s this guy, and he has this blonde bimbo with him, they have a bottle of champagne, they’re tanked. And Don looks at me and he says, ‘I wanna know why you think you can coach these niggers.” Now, don’t just look at the words in these accusations. Go up a few lines and read the alleged actions connected and directly connoted with Sterling’s views on Race, and in particular, those of African American descent.
To understand Sterling’s racial ideology, we must understand the man’s background. As I mentioned earlier, he was born Donald Tokowitz. A son of Jewish immigrants who allegedly came to this country flat broke. Sounds eerily similar to those of us whose ancestry derived from those dark-skinned Africans who landed in what is now the United States of America in 1619 (give or take a few years depending on what historian you talk to). He apparently changed his surname either in an effort to distance or erase his past or to escape his Jewish heritage, which either way would make a superb case study in Self-Hate and Self-Deprecation. His history authenticates that Sterling is a Horatio Alger story for the ages. He grew up in Los Angeles, became an injury and divorce attorney, invested his money, and bought one of the hometown sports franchises. Bravo. But what is lost in this story is how he utilized his wealth and societal positioning to assimilate into the stereotypical culture of WASPS. His upward mobility freed him from his immigrant roots and poverty, more than likely associated with his ethnic plot in the United States. His money freed him from oral censorship. His money freed him from moral responsibility of human empathy and sympathy. The fruits of his labor and his business acumen unchained him from his marginalized past and allowed him to be free to literally ‘do’ whatever he wants to others (i.e. subjugate, denigrate, and deny residency/occupancy).
Being that the NBA is an exclusive sports league that can allow or disallow ownership at its discretion it is ironic that they have never called major media attention to this owner. Unless one lived on the West Coast, before the Baylor lawsuit, you’d probably never knew who owned the Clippers, what he looked like, or what sketchy past the man had. But now we do. And the bigger question is why haven’t any of the other 29 owners of NBA franchises, excluding Michael Jordan, the sole Black owner in the league, voiced their personal and professional opinions on this matter. Not the recording, but Sterling’s massive history of racial inequality. Better yet, with almost 80% of the players in the NBA being Black/African American, how often is this type of thing going on within the league’s team’s front offices. We just heard what Sterling has said and have seen his discrimination suits played out in the public sphere via the media, but only God knows what is going on with the other owners. I would like to know the percentages of non-player personnel that is Black in the NBA. Yes, D’Jonald has been unchained and off the chain for years, but what about the other owners who are quiet as church mice during this public smearing of the Clippers, its owner, and the NBA brand? The new commissioner, Adam Silver was under David Stern’s tutelage since 1992. I’m sure a smart, Jewish lawyer like himself knew Sterling’s resume on equality and discrimination. We have. But I guess the league helped to unchain him.