Say what you will about TMZ and its over-the-top celebrity news coverage, but the tabloid organization has successfully taken down Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, by publishing a recording of racist comments he made to erstwhile girlfriend.
No, it wasn’t the New York Times. It wasn’t Woodward and Bernstein at the Post. It wasn’t even Edward Snowden. It was TMZ and it’s an ongoing story that we’ll be talking about for years to come. I’d go as far to say that Sterling and his subsequent punishment will be looked back as a historic moment in this country’s history.
OK, so TMZ’s report didn’t take down some major head of state or unveil some major gigantic governmental cover up, but it did take down a very rich asshole. And, as we all know, successfully taking down a rich asshole can be a very hard thing to do in a country where they are revered by so many.
Before last weekend, I had no idea who Donald Sterling was, and I am willing to bet most outside the greater Los Angeles area didn’t know who he was, either. Apparently he’s had a history of being accused of racial discrimination, including a lawsuit filed against him regarding discrimination in a housing complex he owns that was settled out of court.
As the news spread Sunday and Monday, the TMZ recording of Sterling was played over and over again, in which he told his mixed-race girlfriend, V. Stiviano, that he didn’t care if she went out with black people or associated with black people, but she was to not reveal that fact through social media. Apparently Sterling was angry about a photo she’d sent out, of herself and Magic Johnson.
Like most of the nation, I was shocked at what was said by a man who owns an N.B.A. basketball team – and even more shocked at several media outlets’ stating his comments were par for the course, and that Sterling is a known racist, and the comments were emblematic of his behavior. When I heard that characterization several times, I became less shocked by what he said, and more shocked by the fact that he is still owns a professional basketball team. If this guy is as bad as everyone says, why in the hell is he still in a place of power? For me, that’s the shocking aspect in all of this. Apparently, everyone around him knew his true colors.
As the story rolled into Tuesday, his character continued to be diminished by people close to him and by his former players.
One former player told The Petros and Money Show on Tuesday that Sterling would bring friends into the locker room before games to see the players. Seems normal, right? What would differ with Sterling is that he would point to players, even squeezing some of their arms, describing what wonderful specimens of men they were. Sterling, it seems, has some twisted plantation owner identity stuck in his head.
In the same way sensible Republicans separated themselves from Cliven Bundy after his recent racist remarks, players, coaches, fans, team sponsors – just about everyone close to Sterling – did everything they could to separate themselves from him. During warmups before its Game 4 playoff game against Golden State, the Clippers team silently protested Sterling’s remarks by wearing their uniforms inside out, hiding the Clippers logo. Just about every sponsor of the Clippers, including Kia, bowed out of their sponsorship.
Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers refused to even speak with Sterling. “I was asked, do I need to talk with Donald, and I passed, quite honestly,” Rivers said in a press conference on Monday. “I don’t think right now is the time or the place for me at least. So I just took a pass.”
With Game 5 set for Tuesday evening, the story was snowballing forward. More and more players were angry about Sterling’s comments. More sponsors were being lost. More fans were planning to protest the game. The question quickly became how could new N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver do to not only quash this media nightmare, but also, what’s right, in responding to bigotry in a high-profile workplace?
On Tuesday, Silver took the microphone at a scheduled press conference and in a nervous but stern voice brought the hammer down on Sterling.
“Effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life, from any association with the Clippers organization or the N.B.A. Mr. Sterling may not attend any N.B.A. games or practices. He may not be present at any Clippers facility, and he may not participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team,” Silver said.
Silver also fined Sterling $2.5 million, the maximum the league will allow, and said he would urge the N.B.A.’s Board of Governors to force a sale of the team.
In all honesty, I thought the process in punishing Sterling would be a much more drawn out affair, taking weeks. Nor did I expect the punishment to be this pointed or harsh – maybe a forced attendance at anger-management classes, at the most .
I give Silver a lot of credit. He didn’t mess around; he made his point, loud and clear. Racism will not exist in the N.B.A. I now can’t imagine what would have happened, had Silver done any less. Race riots? I think it could have blown that big. Doc Rivers’ reaction to Silver’s lifetime ban, he said, was a “sigh of relief.” I think the Clippers players too heaved a sigh of relief, knowing that Sterling was now banned.
Make no mistake about it, this not over, not by any means. Seeing Sterling forced to sell the team will be interesting (although it will undoubtedly involve drawn-out lawsuits and in the long run, the fans will suffer).
I think we will look back on all of this 20 years from now and say this was a historic time in sports, not because of what Sterling said but because of how Silver handled it. Silver’s “banning Sterling for life” speech will, in my mind, go down in the same category as O.J’s police chase, and even Magic Johnson’s announcement that he’s HIV positive. These are moments we will always remember clearly.
I am no Clippers fan, not in any sense, but I may just have to jump on their postseason bandwagon. If the Clippers could somehow win an N.B.A. championship and hold that trophy high, while Sterling looks on from whatever cave he is in, that too would be another dose of sweet justice.