Apr 28 2014

Why Donald Sterling Matters

NOTE: I wrote this as a supplement to a piece I wrote for ClipperBlog.


I have spent a lot of time writing about sports, specifically basketball. More recently, I have spent a lot of time discussing the Los Angeles Clippers. I enjoy all elements of basketball: playing, evaluation, discussion. It is more than a recreational hobby for me, and it is more than a bit of an obsession for me. Basketball, specifically professional basketball, is a future employment opportunity for me.

The first week of the 2014 NBA Playoffs have been fun to watch. It all hit a detour late Friday night when I saw this tweet across my timeline:

I was out with the lady when I saw this, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I know about Donald Sterling. He already has an established history of terrible words and actions, both related and unrelated to what has “traditionally” been a sorry basketball team. My Friday night out was spent venting about a recording that was certainly salacious but hardly groundbreaking. I knew I was going to have to write eventually. I knew that I had to address Sterling’s comments. But I needed perspective. I needed sleep. I needed independence of other people’s thoughts.

I woke up Saturday morning, and I had to listen to the tape. When I write about sports, I need more than the print, more than the numbers. I need to see what I am evaluating. I need to feel it. So I listened:

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With every minute, the “War on Ignorance” that I had to engage in took on new meaning. Sterling’s words took on a different tone for me. I didn’t need to act shocked or outraged. I didn’t need to suggest what the Clippers fans or players needed to do. I wanted to look deeper than that. I wanted to show progression, if at all possible.

The ugliness spewed by Sterling is an opportunity. Donald Sterling has said terrible things before, but this was the first time I heard his voice. This was the first time I heard him talking to ME. This exposé of Sterling is unfortunate – for Sterling.

You see, NOBODY has ever had to care about the Los Angeles Clippers. They weren’t a threat to anyone. They didn’t represent the NBA because they were so bad. They didn’t even represent Los Angeles, because they were in the shadow of the Lakers, owned by Sterling’s buddy Jerry Buss. His transgressions were easy to sweep under the proverbial rug. Many have criticized former NBA Commissioner David Stern for sending Chris Paul to the Clippers. Some have said that the move “validated” and “enabled” Sterling.

Well, the fact that the Clippers have an on-court product that can’t be ignored has given a newfound spotlight to Sterling.  The Clippers are representing the NBA Playoffs. Sterling has been allowed to be unchecked and ignored for so long while his disturbing thoughts and actions served as a repellent to legitimacy. Now, people have to care. The new Commissioner, Adam Silver, had to care this weekend in a press conference. The new (and old) owners have to care, especially in light of the extended audio Deadspin released, which contained this quote:

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I don’t know what’s going to happen to Sterling. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the Clippers’ coaches or players, though I can tell you that the credible personnel they have attained over the past few years will ripple out of the organization, some as soon as this summer. I do know that unlike the past, the proper attention to Sterling has been generated. The league’s MVP has spoken, as well as the United States President.

As for me? It’s easy for me to say that I don’t have to work for this man. It’s easy for me to say that I don’t pay rent to him. It’s easy for me to say that I don’t have to give him a lifetime achievement award on behalf of the NAACP. I have gone to Clippers games before, but not to support this owner. But the way I see it, black people weren’t supposed to show up at lunch counters either. They weren’t supposed to ride at the front of the bus. It’s a shame that Sterling has the money, power, and influence to follow through on his view of the world.

Donald Sterling “broadcasting” his association with Leon Jenkins, President of the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP, at Sterling’s charity event. (Source: Los Angeles Clippers)

But you know what? I’m helping the word get out about his ignorance and failure to understand the errors of his ways and thoughts. Sterling made me think about the conflicts of sports in a way that I wasn’t anticipating this weekend. He’s making the NBA and the world think about the things Donald Sterling has commented on. We do live in a certain culture that we have a role in creating, and in a society that we each have a role in. Donald Sterling doesn’t want to change that culture. I do. And I will.


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