A $2.5 million fine and a lifetime ban later, former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been thoroughly exiled from the National Basketball Association. Following the release of his racist commentary, caught on tape by girlfriend V. Stiviano, Sterling forced the hand of commissioner Adam Silver who had no choice but to impose the maximum penalty. Recently, Sterling even went on CNN and called out Los Angeles icon Magic Johnson, declaring, “What has he done? He’s got AIDS.” While these outbursts may seem to be new developments to the casual fan, it is clear that the NBA has locked away Sterling’s secrets for quite some time and were simply forced to let them break out.
Sterling’s minority oppression first surfaced during a series of housing lawsuits from, unsurprisingly, minority buyers. In multiple situations, Sterling has shown a bizarre preference for Koreans over other minority groups. In 2003, he settled a lawsuit over changing the name of one of his tenants to “Korean World Towers.” Sterling’s affinity towards Koreans doesn’t end there: a former employee of Sterling’s real estate business said, “I needed to learn the ‘Asian way’ from his younger girls because they knew how to please him.” Instilling this belief s is one of the many racist acts that the NBA turned a blind eye to publicly.
Even those within the NBA’s inner confines looked the other way from Sterling’s despicable attitude. One of the icons of basketball, head coach Doc Rivers (a minority himself) is also to blame for this ignorance. Rivers, on his way out after the Boston Celtics, decided to rebuild the franchise and was spoiled for choice in his decision to sign with a new team. The Memphis Grizzlies, who let coach Lionel Hollins walk after being one step from the NBA finals, reportedly showed intense interest in Rivers. The other job opening? The Los Angeles Clippers, owned by a racist with a wallet as big as his ego.
Conventional wisdom states that once an employee is considering working for a new company, he or she should spend some time looking into who his or her new boss will be. Assuming Rivers did his homework, he’d have known that Sterling held a proven bias against people of his race. Why then, would Rivers sign on to work for a man with tangible dislike for his kind?
The answer: cold hard cash.
Eventually, Rivers agreed to a contract with Los Angeles paying him $7 million annually, making him the highest paid coach in NBA history. In contrast, Memphis ultimately paid its coach, David Joerger, $2 million per year: just twenty-eight percent of Rivers’ salary. Even more alarming is the fact that Rivers, known for his prolific team defense, declined to coach a team that was a perfect fit for his style of play with players like Tony Allen and Zach Randolph. Rivers recently claimed he had “no idea” that Sterling had been accused of these racist acts, illustrating Rivers’ greed and desire for the money and fame the Clippers could offer.
Even the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) covered up Sterling’s tracks in search of the green stuff. The chapter head, Leon Jenkins, who presents one public figure with the Lifetime Achievement Award, had honored Sterling with said award in 2009 amidst his pending lawsuits. The award was officially merited by Sterling’s $45,000 donation to the NAACP (spread out over a few years), a significant amount for the organization, and nearly prompted the group to honor him again this year, had it not been for the recent scandal that caused Jenkins to resign from his post.
“The first time Sterling was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the group was in the midst of a lawsuit for housing discrimination based upon race,” Elzie Granderson, a journalist and lecturer at Northwestern University, stated. “No, considering what $45,000 means to a man of Sterling’s wealth, honoring him with awards is just giving integrity away.” Sterling’s lawsuit cost him $2.75 million dollars, but the loss in pocket money is nothing compared to the current media scrutiny he faces. In fact, the NBA’s intolerance for his remarks and the media’s reaction has resulted in numerous offers to buy the team.
Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson, Floyd Mayweather, Frankie Muniz, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Rick Ross and Mark Wahlberg are all bidders to become the new Clippers owner. The anticipation to own a team with so much potential and publicity is an opportunity every billionaire would love to jump into. However, until the league’s thirty owners can reach a twenty-three-person vote to force a team sale, Donald Sterling’s shadow will hover over the Clipper franchise.
Madhesh Desai co-authored this story
Photo: Washington Post