While praising Michael Jordan for the Charlotte owner speaking out against the uber-creepy Donald Sterling, The Nation’s Dave Zirin adds, “it is impossible to take any owner seriously that they are ‘shocked’ or ‘outraged’ by Sterling’s surreptitiously recorded statement, because ‘news’that Donald Sterling is racist qualifies as news only if you’ve been living on a hermetically sealed space station for the last decade.” Or more likely, you simply don’t follow sports very closely.
Even Clippers coach Doc Rivers’s comment that when he took the job last year—he didn’t know that Sterling was a bigot but “probably should have”—strains credulity. Sterling, with a great deal of attendant publicity, has been a racist in both word and deed for some time. His statements about African-Americans, Latinos and Asians—not to mention his misogyny—are exceeded only by his much-protested practices as a discriminatory slumlord.
Many people have not only expressed “shock” at Sterling’s words but also have said variations of “I have never heard anything like this from owners in the NBA.” I cannot speak to whether or not this is true. It is certainly possible that Donald Sterling is the only owner who seems to be in a constant state of arousal, fear and rage at what he calls the “beautiful black bodies” of the NBA. But every owner, as well as former commissioner David Stern—whose paternalism was called out by Dwyane Wade during the 2011 NBA lockout—needs to carry the burden of having counted this person as a colleague for so long. And lest we forget, Donald Sterling’s great benefactor, friend and partner was the late Dr. Jerry Buss, the owner of the Lakers, a person who was universally mourned without criticism after he passed away.
In his press conference, new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was asked by ESPN writer J.A. Adande about why, given his racist history, Sterling had never been sanctioned. Silver, in his best impression of Mark McGwire said, “I am not here to talk about the past.” But an NBA ownership structure that would tolerate a man like Donald Sterling for so long is, frankly, intolerable.