Racism in the NBA

Until Sterling issues a complete retraction and an apology, he has no place in civilized society.

April 30, 2014 21:15
3 minute read.
Donald Sterling

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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There are a number of odious aspects to the surreally racist remarks Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA team, made against blacks.

First, since Sterling – formerly Tokowitz – is a Jew, the entire episode is ein shanda fur die goyim, an embarrassing outing of Jewish misbehavior before the gentiles.

This is a shame because it distorts the reality that intimate, friendly ties between Jews and blacks in American basketball go back generations, and remain strong to this day.

In the 1950s, Jews and blacks were the two ethnic groups most commonly found on the court. In large part, this hearkened back to the origins of basketball as a largely urban sport. In later decades, while blacks continued to dominate the playing, Jews remained close to other aspects of the game as commissioners, sportscasters and coaches.

There is no small amount of consolation in the fact that another Jew, newly appointed NBA commissioner Adam Silver, took the appropriately radical step of baning Sterling from NBA games for life and fining him a maximum $2.5 million. The proceeds will go to anti-discrimination charities. Silver also announced he will do everything in his power to persuade other owners to use their authority to force Sterling to sell the team, which, he said, they may do by a three-quarters vote.

Unfortunately, Silver’s predecessor, David Stern, also Jewish, ignored Sterling’s openly racist statements and actions (In 2006, the US Department of Justice sued Sterling for housing discrimination; he allegedly said that black tenants smell and attract vermin; in 2009, he paid $2.73m. in a Justice Department suit alleging he discriminated against blacks, Hispanics, and families with children in his rentals).

Another odious aspect of the Sterling disgrace is that in his rant the man somehow also managed to disparage the State of Israel.

“You go to Israel,” Sterling told his then-mistress in a surreptitiously taped conversation in which he tried to convince her not to associate with blacks, that in Israel, “the blacks are treated like dogs… There’s white Jews and black Jews, do you understand?” The ultimate chutzpah however, is Sterling’s total lack of appreciation for blacks’ contribution to his business success as owner of the Clippers. The recent surge in basketball’s popularity and value for owners can be attributed almost entirely to a spectacularly talented and charismatic cadre of superstars who happen to be overwhelmingly of the same ethnic group Sterling so maligned. According to a study by Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, in 2013 76.3% of NBA players were African-American.

Sterling bought the Clippers in 1981 for $12.5m. Forbes recently valued the franchise at $575m, and insiders say that is a gross underestimate. Sterling’s business savvy had nothing to do with the Clippers’ financial success.

Rather, his team’s value exploded because the league’s popularity exploded, and the popularity of the NBA exploded thanks to the talents of players from the past such as Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, and current stars Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, Lebron James and Kevin Durant. All happen to be black.

Will Sterling be allowed to remain owner of the Clippers or will those responsible for the Clippers’ and the NBA’s success get their way and force him to sell the team? In addition to numerous players, past and present, who have weighed in against Sterling, a number of owners, including the Miami Heat’s Micky Arison, San Antonio Spurs’ Peter Holt and Sacramento Kings’ Vivek Ranadive have spoken out as well. And other owners have voiced unconditional support for Silver’s decision.

Ideally, Sterling will get the message and exit the scene. Even on the most practical level he must realize that the publication of his abhorrent comments puts his players in an untenable situation: They are being asked to win games for a team owned by a man who has expressed his loathing for their very being. Until he issues a complete retraction and an apology, he has no place in civilized society.

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