Don’t Punish Team for Sterling’s Views

Clips LogoThe Clippers’ players are suffering enough.

Donald Sterling’s a bigot.  Surprise surprise.

Actually, no, not really.

Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers (formerly the San Diego Clippers before Sterling moved the team up Interstate 5) has a long and dubious record of being one of the worst owners–if not the worst–in all of professional sports.  Since taking ownership of the Clippers in 1981, Sterling has amassed the worst winning percentage of any owner in any of the four major pro sports leagues.  And he never seemed to care.  Winning for him was never a priority; being able to claim membership in an exclusive club, and using his NBA ownership status to bolster his real estate business was always his priority.

Donald Sterling has always been tolerated rather than accepted.   Clippers fans–if there really was any such thing prior to about two years ago when the team’s two superstar players, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, vaulted the team to NBA pseudo-prominence–were kind of like the Chicago Cubs fans of the NBA.  But hey, at least it could be said that the Cubs were trying to win every once in a while.  Sterling’s Clippers?  Not so much.

This year the Clippers have the LA/Southern California spotlight all to themselves.  For the first time in, well, ever, the LA Clippers are the only LA team in the NBA playoffs.  After an atypically abysmal season of turmoil, the Golden State’s revered Lakers didn’t qualify, leaving the Clippers the opportunity to make their own mark, and their own run at a championship out from the shadow of the team with whom they share an arena.  Until this year, the Lakers were LA’s team, selling out every game at premium prices, while the Clippers were the bargain basement brand of LA that no one but the truly die hards, like Billy Crystal, bothered to go and see.

A lot of that had to do with the fact that the Clippers were always so putrid.  Much of it had to do with the fact that their owner was largely viewed as a disgrace to professional sports ownership.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past four days, a secret audio recording was published last Friday by the celebrity gossip site TMZ allegedly containing the voices of Sterling and his girlfriend V. Stiviano (Sterling is married, by the way, although apparently not happily so) with Sterling castigating Stiviano for hanging around with black people, and posting photos of herself on her instagram account with black people such as Magic Johnson and Dodgers baseball player Matt Kemp.  He also warned her not to bring any black people to his games with her.  Even though nearly 80% of the players in the NBA are black, apparently black people are not welcome in Staples Center on Clippers game nights.

The website Deadspin later posted an extended audio of the hour long conversation, where the voice purported to be Sterling’s, upon being reminded that he has “a whole team that’s black, that plays for” him, replies “You just, do I know?  I support them and give them food and clothes and houses.  Who gives it to them? Does anyone else give it to them?  Do I know that I have–who makes the game?  Do I make the game or do they make the game?  Is there 30 owners that created the league?”

Other than the fact that he doesn’t “give” them anything; that they earn what he “gives” them through employment contracts with the organization that says they must actually perform a service in order to earn that paycheck (i.e. play the game of professional basketball), or that nobody, and I mean nobody goes to Staples Center to see him do anything, or even cares that he’s there, he may be on to something.

On second thought, no, he’s not.  The guy is a first class douchebag with a history racist-y behavior.  Such as when he was ordered to pay $2.75 million for housing discrimination for allegedly discriminating against blacks and Hispanics in apartment buildings he owns.  He’s also been dubbed the “Slumlord Billionaire.”  Or the time he was sued for employment discrimination by his former Clippers GM, Elgin Baylor, a legendary NBA player in his own right.  Baylor, who is black, lost that suit, but given Sterling’s most recent comments, the courts must surely wish they had a do-over.

OK, so we’ve established the fact that Sterling is a real piece of excrement.  That much any sports fan has known for decades.  Hell, I even knew it, and I pay what can only be described as approaching zero attention to the NBA, save occasionally one player in particular; one recent SDSU Aztec who has in short order become a rising NBA star.  Other than that, in my opinion, the NBA game has no redeeming qualities.

But that’s neither here nor there.  There are an awful lot of people who do enjoy the NBA game.  More importantly, there have been an awful lot of people who have enjoyed Clippers basketball, particularly this year when they have consistently been one of the league’s best.  They’ve sold out nearly every game this year, something that previously only the Lakers could claim among the LA teams.  And now they return to the Staples Center for Tuesday night’s game five against Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors amidst uncertainty.  There is concern amongst the players and the coaches about how the team will be received in their home arena, by a crowd that has apparently been as raucous and enthusiastic and supportive as any Lakers crowd could ever hope to be.

“We’re going home now, and usually that would mean going to our safe haven,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers after Saturday’s 118-97 game four loss in Oakland, “and I don’t even know if that’s true” anymore.

That’s a shame.  They shouldn’t have to feel this way.  They shouldn’t be punished because their team owner is one of the worst human beings on the planet.  The good work that they’ve done to this point should not be the subject of ridicule.  They’re great players and class acts, by all accounts.  Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are the darlings of corporate sponsorship, staples of television commercial rotation.  Coach Doc Rivers has earned a place of high regard throughout his playing career and his brief coaching career with the Boston Celtics (where he won a championship) and now the Clippers.

These players and these coaches deserve better than what they expect.  They’ve worked too hard, represented themselves, their team, and their city with class and dignity all year, and have provided an awful lot of enjoyment for an awful lot of people.  And now, through no fault of theirs, they’re caught up in this disaster of their owner’s making.  It’s not fair to the players; they shouldn’t be punished for Sterling’s actions.

It’s one thing to want to boycott Donald Sterling, as many voices are calling for, including Warriors coach Mark Jackson.  But it might be helpful to remember that doing so not only hurts Sterling–though it’s entirely debatable whether he cares at all–but it also hurts the players.  And they clearly deserve much better.  In fact, they probably need the support of their fans now more than ever.



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