Column: Sterling’s comments require unprecedented action


From the day I was born until I graduated high school, I lived in six different places. The longest stop was a stint from August 2000 to January 2007 in Orange County, Calif., which lies about halfway between Los Angeles to the north and San Diego to the south.

While there, I developed an interest in sport that has brought me to where I am today. I attended Games 1, 2 and 7 of the 2002 World Series at Angels Stadium and a number of Los Angeles Lakers games, playoffs and the Kobe-Shaq Era included.

But a memory that came to mind when I heard about Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s comments regarding blacks and former Laker Magic Johnson—if the voice on the tape published by TMZ is actually his—was reading stories as a teenager about how the longtime Los Angeles Clippers’ owner refused to rent the properties he made his fortune off of to people of certain ethnicities.

It was through these stories that I learned about racism.

I won’t repeat Sterling’s comments, released Saturday, in this space, as I consider myself a decent human being. If you want to see or hear them, here. His comments are comical in a sense—it is a joke someone like Sterling can actually believe what he says to be truth.

Mind you, Sterling, a white man, was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1933 to Jewish immigrants with the name Donald Tokowitz. When Sterling started to make his fortune in West Coast real estate in the 1960s, as the region’s property market exploded, he changed his name from Tokowitz to Sterling, as he thought it was a name that would give people confidence, according to ESPN,

Despite his history, Sterling was awarded by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 2009 for his “kindness” to the minority youth community, according to the same story. It’s amazing how far money can go to connect dots that seemingly should never be linked, but sums ranging from $10,000-15,000 can make connections out of thin air.

Before his comments came to light, the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP planned to give him a lifetime achievement award on May 15. According to a statement yesterday from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s spokesman published in the Los Angeles Times, the award might be re-considered.  

Today, the NAACP announced Sterling wouldn’t receive the honor.

Since he bought the Clippers in 1981, Sterling’s track record as an owner has been nearly as poor as his relations with minorities. He re-negotiated a lease for $1.5 million per year in 2004 to continue sharing the Staples Center with the Lakers, and from 1999-2008 he turned a $140 million profit, according to an article from ESPN The Magazine in 2009.

These numbers seem impressive on their own, but are rather low when placed alongside those of LA’s other NBA team, the Lakers. The Jerry Buss-owned Lakers won 63 percent of their games (465-273 record), made five NBA Finals appearances, won three championships, four division titles and made $322 million for their owner.

According to ESPN, then-Staples Center chief executive Tim Leiweke said the building would make more money from five concerts than from a whole slate of Clippers games.

The team stunk in every way for 30 years, posting a winning record in just three seasons from 1981-2011.

The team’s success changed when Chris Paul, the league’s best point guard, was gift-wrapped to Sterling and the Clippers in the winter of 2011 by former commissioner David Stern.

The Lakers, Houston Rockets and the New Orleans Hornets, Paul’s former team and currently-named Pelicans, had agreed to a trade that would send Paul to the Lakers.

But Stern—then-de facto owner of the Hornets, as the team was league-owned while searching for a buyer—vetoed the trade. Six days later, the league approved a deal sending Paul to the Clippers in return for a package of players that was arguably less lucrative than what the vetoed deal with the Lakers and Rockets would have given New Orleans.

The Clippers’ success skyrocketed with Paul’s arrival, and the team has since won 66.5 percent of their games (153-77 record), a pair of Pacific Division titles and made the playoffs in each of the past three seasons after making just one appearance in the 14 seasons prior.

By extension, the team has made even more money for Sterling, rewarding him in some ways for his ineptness.

One has to think Stern is exhaling a heavy sigh of relief. The fiasco with Sterling didn’t break out until after he retired in February, and he is essentially responsible for the Clippers’ status as a contender for the first time under Sterling’s ownership.

Paul, president of the NBA Player’s Association, made a statement today that handed the reins of the matter to National Basketball Players Association representative, Sacramento mayor and former NBA player Kevin Johnson who called Sterling’s comments “reprehensible and unacceptable”in a statement.

Now, Adam Silver faces his first challenge as the league’s commissioner as a result of the racist comments made by the owner of a team in a league whose players are over 76 percent black. Silver is off to a good start, calling the comments “truly offensive and disturbing” when he addressed the media Saturday night in Memphis.

Silver said he wants to find out whether Sterling actually made the comments as soon as possible through a league investigation as “all members of the NBA family should be afforded due process.”

But the onus isn’t solely on him. It’s also on the other 29 owners, who need to stand up for what is right—the removal of Sterling from his position as owner, although there is no legal precedent for such a thing.

Why the owners? While the NBA’s constitution is confidential, the document is rumored to contain conditions under which owners can move to authorize the league to sell a team without the owner’s consent. However, these conditions reportedly only pertain to dire team finances.

It’s not unreasonable to expect Paul, head coach Doc Rivers and the rest of the team to boycott Game 4 of the first-round series against the Golden State Warriors Sunday at 3:30 p.m. But according to Yahoo Sports’ Marc Spears, Rivers, who called Sterling’s comments “a distraction,” said the team won’t.

Clippers player DeAndre Jordan posted a symbolic photo on Instagram to express his opinion, while the team as a whole held a closed door meeting to address the issue.

Rivers said the strong opinions weren’t limited to the black players.  

“J.J. Redick was just as pissed as Chris Paul and that’s the way it should be,” Rivers said after the team’s practice Saturday, which coincidentally took place at the University of San Francisco.

Bill Russell played at USF before his days as Boston Celtic, where he won 11 championships and became the league’s first black superstar. As a San Francisco Don, Russell was a member of teams that were the first to play three black players in the starting lineup, next to winning 55 games in a row in the midst of two national championships in 1955 and 1956.

As a person, Donald Sterling is entitled to think however he wants, say whatever he wants and like whoever he wants. But Sterling and his ignorant, racist opinions have no place today in a league whose success has been predicated on black athletes such as Russell, Michael Jordan and now LeBron James.