Linda Robertson: NBA must act decisively with Clippers owner Donald Sterling

04/29/2014 12:01 AM

04/29/2014 12:30 AM

Elgin Baylor described Donald Sterling perfectly when he compared the Los Angeles Clippers’ owner to a Southern plantation slave owner in his lawsuit against Sterling claiming racial and age discrimination.

Sterling sounds grotesquely like a modern-day master in remarks attributed to him on an audiotape being investigated by the NBA. Sterling scolds his mistress for appearing in public with black people and posting a photo of herself with Magic Johnson on Instagram. He tells her not to bring “them” to “my games.” She points out the hypocrisy of his ownership in a league that is 70 percent black — and she could have pointed out the hypocrisy of his relationship with her, a woman of black and Mexican descent — and he rants in reply about how he is the one putting food on the players’ tables and clothes on their backs.

One way to rid American society of a pathetic old fool like Sterling is to dismiss him and people like racist rancher Cliven Bundy, who got his 15 minutes as conservative anti-tax folk hero until he sermonized about African Americans he’d seen while passing by a public-housing project in Las Vegas: “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned to pick cotton,” Bundy said. “And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?”

Hateful wackos will usually reveal themselves as slaves to their own backward thinking because they can’t help but espouse their views.

“When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don’t really have to do anything,” President Barack Obama said. “You just let them talk.”

But we are weary of listening.

We are tired of taking two steps forward only to be shoved one step back every time another cretin proves there are a lot more of them out there than we had hoped.

Elect a black president; rally racists.

See progress in educational opportunities for minorities; observe a politically stacked U.S. Supreme Court weaken Affirmative Action.

Admire a dynamic playoff series between the Clippers and Golden State Warriors — dominated by black superstars and conducted by black coaches; hear the NBA’s longest-tenured owner express his condescending contempt for men he considers his playthings.

Rolling our eyes is not enough. It was heartening to see the Clippers organize a quietly moving protest by wearing their warmup shirts inside-out and donning black armbands and socks. John Carlos and Tommie Smith would approve.

The players are expected to make another gesture of solidarity Tuesday night at Game 5 in Los Angeles. By playing instead of boycotting they focus attention on their power rather than on powerlessness, and they allow fans to show support.

The NBA leadership and new commissioner Adam Silver face a crisis of conscience. Sterling has been the dinosaur in the room for 33 years.

David Stern mollified him by substantially reducing a fine when Sterling moved the Clippers from San Diego to Los Angeles. Fellow owners tolerated him despite cheapskate rosters that made the Clippers the joke of the league and earned Sterling consistent rankings as Worst Owner in Sports.

Danny Ferry refused to play there; Elton Brand and Lamar Odom fled; Baron Davis got ulcers; Baylor sued. Sterling, a Beverly Hills real estate mogul, paid $2.75 million in 2009 to settle a housing discrimination lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department in which he was accused of forcing blacks, Latinos and families with children out of his apartment buildings.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have turned the Clippers around, and Sterling’s toy, purchased for $13 million, is worth well over $300 million.

It is incumbent on other NBA owners — such as the only black one among 30, Michael Jordan, who said he was “appalled” — to freeze out Sterling. Silver can’t make Sterling sell but can suspend him a long time, just as Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott was suspended twice then pressured to sell for her comments about Adolf Hitler being “good at the beginning” and racial slurs. Commissioners can punish as they see fit if owners go along, as was the case with the NFL’s Roger Goodell and Bountygate.

So far, Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly, has said more about his “despicable views or prejudices” than his fellow mega-millionaires.

Sterling, 80, seems to be a classic bigot, burying his own self-loathing by disparaging those he sees as a threat. Son of a Chicago produce vendor, he changed his name from Tokowitz. He dyes his hair, totes young, gold-digger girlfriends and possesses the ultimate vanity plate, a courtside side at his NBA franchise’s games.

Sterling will probably stay home Tuesday, under his rock. Boo him anyway. If he serves any purpose, it is to renew our sense of outrage.

About Linda Robertson

Linda Robertson

@lrobertsonmiami

Linda Robertson has been a reporter at the Herald since 1983. She writes sports features and columns and has covered both the Winter and Summer Olympics beat.

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