Last week, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life from the NBA. Most people are focusing on the the taped conversation his alleged mistress released to TMZ where Sterling is heard to espouse his beliefs on how the different races in America should mingle. In actuality, that bit of information was just the cherry on top of a long and well-documented history where Donald Sterling, through word and deed, showed his utter contempt for minorities. From the United States Justice Department suing him for breaking federal housing discrimination laws to his treatment of NBA legend Elgin Baylor, Donald Sterling has an established pattern of boorish and criminal behavior (the suit with the Justice Department was settled without Sterling admitting guilt) regarding minorities.
In short, the NBA, and former Commissioner David Stern, should have removed Donald Sterling from its ranks a long time ago. His expulsion was well overdue.
In an upcoming book, Michael Jordan: The Life, NBA legend and Charlotte Bobcats’ owner, Michael Jordan, is quoted as saying, “..basically, I was against all white people.” Now, some people are labeling Jordan has a hypocrite in light of his tough stance on Donald Sterling:
“There is no room in the NBA — or anywhere else — for the kind of racism and hatred that Mr. Sterling allegedly expressed,” Jordan said. “I am appalled that this type of ignorance still exists within our country and at the highest levels of our sport. In a league where the majority of players are African-American, we cannot and must not tolerate discrimination at any level.”
The book’s author, Roland Lazenby, stresses that this was Michael Jordan referencing his 14 year old self. And that his stance was reflective of the racially divided area of North Carolina in which he lived and grew up. And that Jordan was relaying a story where a classmate called him the N-word. Still, people are demanding that Jordan be held accountable, just as Donald Sterling was. In the words of Diff’rent Strokes star, Gary Coleman, “Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”
How are the two statements remotely the same? One man shared his world view with a history of nothing but contempt for minorities and the other responds to someone hurling a racial slur at him by stating that, as a 14 year old, he hated white people. One point of view is nothing but racist. Donald Sterling has made it clear that he finds minorities beneath him. Michael Jordan is saying that in his teen years he didn’t particularly care for the group of people he found responsible for the unnecessary hardships he had to endure. By making these two points of view equal, we’re saying that being a willful racist is the same as having the normal human feelings of bitterness toward someone wrongly oppressing you. That’s simply not fair.
One of the biggest fallacies in America is that racism ended in the 1960’s because of Martin Luther King, Jr. and a few marches and the passage of some laws. My dad, born in 1937, pointed out to me as we were watching the outstanding PBS series Eye on the Prize, “Where do you think all the racists went, son?” The answer to that question is that they went into the shadows because America, and the majority of Americans, decided that type of racist mindset was no longer going to be tolerated. If we are to fully eradicate racism, we, as a society must continue to reaffirm our collective belief in the equality of all people.
In the end, Donald Sterling will still come out ahead when he finally relinquishes ownership of the Clippers as most estimates have the sale price north of $1 billion. But I still commend Commissioner Silver on drawing the line in the sand and setting the precedent that the NBA will no longer codify an outwardly racist owner. Owning a professional sports franchise is a privilege, not a right.