I have been an NBA fan for over 40 years and a season ticket holder for the Washington Wizards for over a decade. During that time, just by keeping up with the NBA, I learned that Los Angeles Clippers’ owner, Donald Sterling, had not only a reputation of being a racist, but had actually settled multiple lawsuits, including one brought by the United States Department of Justice, where racism or racist tactics were alleged employed by Mr. Sterling and his companies. As more than one commentator stated this past weekend, Mr. Sterling’s views on race were the worst-kept secret in the league.
NBA owners, coaches, players and fans accepted the fact that Mr. Sterling had, at a minimum, practices in his non-NBA businesses that were highly questionable, if not outright racist. Despite this fact, we watched one African-American player after another play for the Clippers without comment. A lot of that changed several years ago when the Basketball Hall of Famer and former Clipper General Manager, Elgin Baylor, sued the Clippers and Mr. Sterling based on allegations of racism along with age discrimination. After that, certain former Clippers players and other players around the NBA began to talk a little bit more publicly about what was known, but not generally talked about in NBA circles, concerning Sterling’s views on race.
I will admit that I was surprised when former Celtics Coach, Doc Rivers, maneuvered to put himself in the position to become the Coach of the Clippers. Rivers had been very public during his career about race relations in the NBA, as well as in America. It was obvious to me at the time that Rivers believed that the opportunity to coach a team with championship potential outweighed any desire he might have not to work for a person with the views that Donald Sterling clearly had.
When audiotapes of what are alleged to be Mr. Sterling’s comments came out this weekend, everyone associated with the NBA took to soapboxes to decry the comments and publicly announce how disgusted they were with Mr. Sterling, despite the fact that many of them knew, or should have known, that the comments attributed to him were consistent with his life actions in other businesses.
Assuming the NBA cannot force Donald Sterling to sell the Clippers, and the fact that other NBA owners probably do not want him suspended for a lengthy period of time for words spoken in private conversation, less they someday be subject to that same type of sanction, the question is, how does the NBA, its owners, coaches and players best respond.
While I am certainly not in a position to tell anyone how to live their lives, wouldn’t it be great to see Doc Rivers resign as coach of the Clippers after this year, to see an African-American player, or even better, a white player drafted by the Clippers refuse to play for them, and for every NBA free agent to announce, publicly, that, while he is looking for a new employer, as well as considering staying with his old team, he will only consider 29 of the 30 NBA teams and will not, under any circumstance, agree to sign a contract with the Clippers.
I was born in 1957, and was 11 years old during the 1960 Summer Olympics when two American athletes, upon climbing onto the metal stand in Mexico City made a black power salute that resonates with people of my age to this day. That was a comment directed to America as a whole, and I hope today’s NBA players and coaches have the same strength that John Carlos and Tommie Smith had in making a public stand against Mr. Sterling if these are in fact his racist views.
Steven T. Blomberg