OPINION — Donald Sterling is a racist.
That’s not news. He has a long history of showcasing how much of an ignorant jackass he is. His treatment of minorities has been unacceptable for years, and when he opens his mouth to talk about race relations, the results have been typically deplorable.
Sterling was allegedly caught telling his girlfriend — who’s biracial — to not “broadcast” that she’s friends with black people, and in particular, Magic Johnson (who is one of Los Angeles’ most beloved people).
Again, Sterling being racist isn’t news. His former GM Elgin Baylor sued him for racial discrimination. He works in real estate and allegedly wouldn’t rent to African-Americans. He has a track record of treating African-Americans as nuisances rather than colleagues.
What is news is that the NBA has a new commissioner, and this is the first major controversy of his tenure. The previous commissioner, David Stern, let Sterling do what he pleased. He wasn’t a pot-stirrer. Sterling could do and say what he wanted, as long as he kept paying the NBA checks to have expensive black athletes play on his team.
Sterling has gone on the defensive. He claims the audio was doctored. He’s suing V. Stiviano and said she edited the tape to make him sound like a racist.
We do know that the woman on the tape — who we believe released it to TMZ — is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family, alleging that she embezzled more than $1.8 million, who told Mr. Sterling that she would “get even.'”
Silver, who most believe is more progressive than his predecessor, has a huge opportunity here. “Investigating” the audio isn’t enough (though I do recognize that Sterling is still alleged to saying these things. He hasn’t been found guilty of anything). Fining a billionaire won’t move the needle either.
It’s time for a real penalty. You can’t take Sterling’s team away — he did pay for it. But you can suspend him. And you can do it for a long period of time.
Silver’s first move should be to suspend him for the playoffs. The Los Angeles Clippers have a real shot to win the NBA Championship this year. Sterling should have to watch those games at home.
Fans should make the next move. I can write columns bashing Sterling’s behavior, and ESPN can run stories about how horrible he is as a person all day long.
But ultimately, he’s still raking in millions. To effect actual change, fans need to stop filling his arena when his team plays.
His team — which is largely made up of black players — employs an African-American coach and can do something here too. Coach Doc River had a 45-minute meeting with his players about potentially boycotting their playoff games. That idea was quickly dismissed.
“I thought we needed to talk about it because everyone else is and so we needed to talk about it and all things came up,” Rivers said. “We’ve heard all the stuff, the boycotts and all the stuff and all those things are things you could do but we choose to play and we’re going to play tomorrow…. It was brought up because I’m sure 20,000 people have suggested it but honestly I’m completely against that and they were, too.”
His players have played basketball their entire lives, and their goal from Day 1 was to win an NBA Championship. This incident shouldn’t derail that goal.
They should focus on playing basketball for the remainder of the playoffs.