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Donald Sterling As A Young Boy, Oh, Allegedly Of Course!
This letter (its not really a letter) isn’t to Donald Sterling. It’s to the Los Angeles Clippers. Not the organization. To the team. Sterling has mad his pathetic apology and is on his way out, but there’s more to be said.
I saw your “stand” as it was referred to. And that’s it? No boycott? Thing is, I’m not disappointed with Sterling. I’ve known what he was for decades now. It’s as surprising as a Karl Malone choked free throw with the game on the line. No, I’m disappointed with the team. While nearly 100% of media has thrown nothing but support their way I think the Clippers have chosen poorly. I think they saw the brave choice and shied away from it’s magnitude. Intimidated by the gravity of the situation and the choices they could make.
I didn’t need to hear the excuses. The boyhood dreams of a title. The hoopla about fans you play for. The goals that were set as a team. That’s what they all are. Excuses. Sometimes sports transcend athletics. They become bigger than competition. And in these instances there is almost never a bigger platform for positive social change. The clippers were not interested.
What has happened to athletes today? Muhammad Ali was banned from competition for 3 years at the height of his prime for his beliefs. Those 3 years made him a legend. Those 3 years fueled the motivation that drove perhaps the greatest athlete of all time. He couldn’t be broken. By fame, by money or by his slave name. It’s why we respect him. He was Ali. It meant something far beyond sports.
People used to spit on Jackie Robinson when got out of the dugout and went to bat. They threw things at him. And then he knocked balls out of the park and those people started cheering and the cheers meant more to him than the tobacco laced mucous from the Donald Sterlings in the crowd. He wiped that off his back and became a living legend.
The spittle still flies. When LeBron James acknowledged that racism was obviously a factor for some people’s reaction to him moving to South Beach he was lambasted with “playing the race card.” As if ‘he’ was racist to admit to reality. The bitter irony. Prominent black athletes aren’t socially permitted to speak openly about race when at least 1 of the 30 people in the world who control/own the NBA, a black league, is an overtly racist individual. How many sports writers and media outlet owners covering “Decisiongate” were secretly motivated by race? We will never know but if 1/30 of the NBA ownership is we can be sure the math works to some degree in society at large.
So what does Doc Rivers want? Right. He wants a championship. Dreams come true. Sure. Every player wants that. Lets consider what Doc and the Clippers don’t want. They don’t want immortality. They don’t want movies made about them decades after they retire. They’ve shied away from that legacy. They don’t want to be mentioned in sentences with Jackie Robinson. They don’t want to transcend sports and are content to go for the smaller prize of a ring. They don’t want to become the team that took a stand and ousted one of the last truly racist owners in sports. They’d rather leave that in the hands of the league’s significantly white ownership. They don’t want to be Ali. They don’t want to be Jack Johnson (see video below). They lack the fire. They want to be soft spoken Joe Louis. Both heros, sure, but Louis was willing to compromise so white people would like him.
Before Ali There Was Jack Johnson. Legend.
And what message does it send? It says standing against racism is fine, standing up for your people is great, but only if it does not buck the corporate system you play for that accepted a blatantly racist owner in it’s ranks for decades. They feared the personal repercussions of what standing up to someone far more powerful than themselves brings. They feared not following the rules. It’s how oppression, racism and ultimately slavery work. One man or small group of people feel they have a right to control a much larger group of people. At first they control/manipulate them inside their realm of influence with wealth, violence and force. But once they’ve broken those people it doesn’t require violence. The racism becomes institutionalized in the culture of the marginalized. It becomes accepted.
Yes, Donald Sterling Isn’t Actually A Slave Owner, He Just Thinks Like One.
Donald Sterling obviously isn’t a slave owner. Thanks in part to the men mentioned above expressions of racism via overt violence have nearly been eradicated from mainstream society. But it was not very long ago that black students were being invited to fire hose parties in the south because they wanted to vote. Racism is clearly not dead in the shadows where phone conversations are secretly recorded. The modern whips and chains of the NBA to institutionalize a subservient culture have just changed. Now they are money. And the chance to compete for a championship, apparently.
While Sterling’s manipulates via his enormous wealth in a way that benefits the players/staff of the Clippers it’s not always the case. It’s most often not the case. They are 15-20 players/staff earning the big bucks. To the larger world Donald Sterling is a racist land owner/slumlord. The benefits to the players is merely coincidental and because Sterling has no other choice given the fact it’s a players’ market. For everyone else they play in Sterling’s real court. And that’s the real man the Clippers should have been thinking about standing up to. And the real people they should have been standing up for.
For years he refused to pay top athletes and let them go while the Clippers continued a 40+ year tradition as the worst franchise in professional sports. You have to wonder was he just cheap? Or did he just not want to be seen cutting large cheques to black people? Seems very likely if he’s offended that his friends/family merely saw a picture of his trophy girlfriend with a black person. AKA “The Enemy.” Remember when asked if he felt his players to be like his children his response was “no, they’re like horses. When one breaks down you get another.” A slave owner’s mentality.
Clearly Donald Sterling Has Plenty Of Hate To Share With Any Race
That’s why it’s about so much more than sports. Racism and basketball is just a novelty project for Donald Sterling. He uses that enormous wealth to hurt and crush people. Little people who rarely have the resources to fight back against his bullying. The Nation wrote a great article detailing his activities as a Slumlord Billionaire if you’d like to learn more. He’s every bit the Boss Man. It’s painfully evident that the strongest possible message could be sent from his team of “Prize Horses.” You know, the ones who have not broken down yet.
But what would the repercussions have been? Do we know? I will say this. Nothing. There would be absolutely no possible negative fallout from the Clippers boycotting games these playoffs. And here is why. There’s no perceivable scenario in which the NBA could allow a team to be punished for standing up for minorities against overt KKK level billionaire hate and racism. It’s not possible.
Adam Silver has been commissioner for 3 months. He’s politically incapable to look weak on this. He’s politically incapable to appear to support Sterling. To allow the Clippers to be knocked out of the playoffs is unfathomable. A boycott would force Silver’s hand like a go ahead free throw and defensive stop with less than 24 seconds left forces the hand of your opponent to intentionally foul you for yet more free throws. You do it or lose and Adam Silver is not ready to lose 3 months into his tenure.
If Chris Paul stood on a podium in an all black suit and told the world that as the captain of the Clippers, and president of the players union, their team would not play another game for Donald Sterling then Silver and the owners would respond within hours. If not minutes. Sterling would be given the steepest kind of suspension possible and plans to change the ownership would be made public. Silver would call Sterling and tell him point blank that the owners have discussed things, this is the last straw, they can’t protect him anymore. He’s out.
That’s leadership. Or Chris Paul could get Stephen Curry’s cell and call him. All he needs to say is “this is about more than hoops. This is about our people and helping to end something we have lived with our whole lives. It’s about sending a message to the poor people Sterlings step on to become wealthy and saying they can stand up for themselves if they have the heart to. Will you join me on the podium and we will change the face of professional sports forever?” Forget the former. THAT is leadership. And there was nothing stopping this same conversation between Doc Rivers and Marc Jackson. The two teams could have held a press conference together. Instead of walking out in warm ups for game 4 they could have shown up in suits and announced it to fans. That, my friends, is taking a stand.
There’s really nothing stopping this conversation between Blake Griffin and David Lee because ultimately this isn’t a debate about race. It’s a debate about human decency and respect. It’s about how to demand it.
Sterling is done. We know that. But the bruises are still visible on the Cilppers because you never defeat a bully till you stand up to them yourself. If that presser took place? The rest of the LAC/GSW series would have set a ratings record. One of the all time special battles. When even opposing teams have chemistry together. (Boston Chicago anyone?) And for their team the Clippers would dig an inexhaustible of team chemistry drawing enough raw motivational liquid to put Gatorade out of business. It’s the only thing a team as talented as their’s has lacked to become universal title favorites. Instead they hid their logos to expose their shame to be part of the organization then threw them in the middle of the court. Then went out to receive a +20 point blowout drubbing because they knew it wasn’t enough.
In the alternative, no one loses their boyhood dreams or opportunities. I get that there is so much for them to lose. But that’s exactly why it would work and why they needed to boycott games. The more you have to lose the more powerful the statement you are making becomes. Ali knew that. Jackie Robinson knew that. Rosa Parks didn’t even take the time to think about it. She was tired so she sat down because she respected herself first. Likewise, the more you give in to the meager returns complacency and acceptance give you the less you are heard simply because you are not really saying anything at all.
The man I respect the most is Magic Johnson. Magic said he will never attend another clipper game so long as Sterling is the owner. Will that affect his career as a broadcaster who’s supposed to contractually attend clipper games? Not a single chance in hell. If anything this will enhance it. He gets it.
It seems collectively as a team the Clippers don’t have the will to challenge their owner where it hurts. To say no, your money doesn’t control us and we do not compromise our dignity. Ever. No one took that stand except for other people who have money. After 30 years of tolerating Sterling’s racism it’s a empty gesture as well. For the league this is about PR and it’s obvious that while the punishment is incredibly harsh, it’s symbolic and convenient to the moment. The message is clear: only rich people have business standing up to rich people. Everyone know s there’s a caste system in America. Everyone disagrees with it. Yet no one is willing to step outside of it and stand on human values. Sterling is still going to go down as another powerful man who can bully people because he’s rich.
The Resemblence Is Striking, Even If Silver Is A “White Jew”, Perhaps Sally Was A Black Jew?
A rich, old, powerful bastard who for years has made his players, David Stern, Adam Silver… the entire NBA really… the Sally Hemmings of all sports. It must stop. But who’s going to do it? Not the Los Angeles Clippers, unfortunately.
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