Donald Sterling is just the Beginning

Yesterday afternoon was when Adam Silver truly started his tenure as the NBA commissioner. David Stern’s mark on the league will forever be remembered through the money generated through television deals and the cleanup of drug use throughout the league. Stern was seen as an authoritarian during his reign as the commish. He gave the players a dress code they had to abide by;he wouldn’t allow for more violence on the league’s courts after the Malice in the Palace.

He was a hard-line, no nonsense kind of commissioner.  Stern was hard to read, secretive and best of all, stubborn. Stern worked for the owners, but he also imposed his will on them. More often than not, it seemed like he worked with them rather than working for them. Stern knew his boundaries but did a fine job of treading along his boundaries. This is why so many respect him as a commissioner and one of the greatest professional sports has ever seen.

I mean, the Chris Paul trade to the Lakers that was Dikembe swatted away by Stern and the rest of the league says just about everything you need to know about him. His explanation for denying the Hornet’s trade to the Lakers and sending him to the Clippers was “basketball reasons”. Those are two words that will notoriously go down in basketball history–I imagine a world where they’d get their own plaque in Springfield.

Just think about that for a second. Basketball reasons? To the Lakers? You’ve got to be kidding me. Would Bud Selig deny a deal to the Yankees because of “baseball reasons”? Would Roger Goodell have the courage to deny a deal for the Rooneys because of “football reasons”? Well, Stern did exactly that to the Lakers–the NBA’s marquee franchise. And that deal set them back, at least, two years. They had to settle for Steve Nash and had nothing appealing to offer Dwight Howard before he left because of that. The near future of the Los Angeles Lakers was demolished with two words.

But those two words really had more of an impact than we think–just take a look at the events yesterday. Donald Sterling’s race fueled comments were obviously wrong, but you can’t tell me that this story doesn’t have a different context if Chris Paul doesn’t play for the Clippers. He’s the president of the National Basketball Players Association. He’s one of the figures at the forefront of this conversation along with his coach and Blake Griffin. Doc Rivers doesn’t coach the Clippers if Chris Paul is a Laker. Blake Griffin isn’t as good if Chris Paul is a Laker. The Clippers don’t have championship aspirations if Chris Paul is a Laker.

And that isn’t to take anything away from the evil that spewed from Sterling’s lips, but I do want to imply this–Donald Sterling is a problem that the NBA should’ve taken care of years ago and a problem that David Stern ran from. This isn’t Sterling’s only offense against people of another race. Bomani Jones did an excellent job of highlighting exactly that in this 10 minute rant he had on Dan Le Betard’s radio show. Sterling was being sued in 2003 for denying tenets in his apartment complexes and having his wife pose as a health inspector to see who was living there.  This is the same “estranged” wife that is still allowed at Clippers’ games–for now.

Baron Davis has spoken out about Sterling and his racism used against him during his tenure with the Clippers. Elgin Baylor–the GM for the Clippers for 22 years–had to sue Sterling to get his proper pay and he also had heard Sterling spew racist remarks. So what Sterling was caught on tape saying to his alleged mistress is nothing that surprises is–it only confirms what we already knew. Sterling is a racist and has been for years now.

This isn’t a mentality that just grows overnight. It manifested itself throughout years of an embattled childhood in Los Angeles where Sterling discriminated against others while also being discriminated against. Sterling was raised in Los Angeles and managed to stay within the state throughout his life. California was a state that, before the second great migration, black people weren’t living there. He was a witness to the Watts Riots in the 1960’s. He saw how the police treated minorities in the state of California. He saw the Japanese being placed in internment camps after the events of Pearl Harbor. Meanwhile, Sterling was also discriminated against because of his Jewish faith.

So it’s really no surprise that Sterling abides by the rules of the plantations that ruled America about 149 years ago. Sterling thinks that he can do what he wants with his workforce because he pays them. He believes that he’s the one that feeds them, clothes them, buys them luxuries and gives them their lifestyle. But what he doesn’t realize is that they’re the ones earning it. They’re the ones that are bringing in the real money and without them he’s absolutely nothing.

But is something that Sterling has seen all his life. He’s been in the same crowds with the same people for years. A mentality change would be a hard thing to create when you’re involved with the wrong crowds. But that doesn’t give Sterling an excuse for being a racist in 2014 while owning a team in a league that is 80% black. But that doesn’t even get the the crux of the issue.

As Jones said, the NBA isn’t a black league, it’s an American one. People who want to–and have the skill to–can participate in the NBA. Sterling had the money and the financial knowledge to be an owner. He made a $12.5 million investment and the rest is history. There’s really nothing that we can do about that.

But, tying this back to David Stern, this should’ve been nipped in the bud long ago. The league had an image to uphold and it still does today. But Stern’s strength in stubbornness turned into a flaw and he actually empowered Sterling. He gave him one of the top players in the league to pair with Blake Griffin and create a dangerous combination. He gave the Lakers competition and wanted to drive home parity in the league–but by doing that he also brought the Clippers to the forefront. This was really bound to happen when you look at it from that perspective.

It was Adam Silver’s mess to clean up–which is exactly what he did. Lifetime ban? Check. A hefty fine? We’ll go with a check there too. Making an effort to get Sterling to sell the team? What a bonus. Silver brought the hammer down on Sterling and he did it swiftly. We must give him credit for doing that. But we also have to remember this: What happened to Donald Sterling is only the beginning.

This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to race relations in America. We’re supposed to live in a post-racial society where no one really sees color anymore. We’re all supposed to be looked at as equals no matter what color, gender or sexual orientation you have. But if that’s the case then answer me this. Why is 80% of the NBA’s workforce black, but only 6% of the league’s ownership is black?

How come we can all, so easily, jump on the “lets boot Donald Sterling” bandwagon, but we can’t fight against gun violence on the streets of Chicago? Why can’t we keep the black men in our society out of prison cells? Why aren’t we fighting harder against gentrification and housing discrimination against minorities? These are the real issues at hand here. Donald Sterling is just one piece to the puzzle.

It’s great that we’ve all marked a problem and that we’ve nipped it in the bud. The NBA has backed up its talk about being a progressive league and having zero tolerance for intolerable people. But we’ve still got some cleaning up to do. Forcing Donald Sterling to sell his team is great, but he’s still rich. And he’ll continue to be rich. But what we need to do is make sure that an incident like this never happens again. We need to make sure that everyone does get an equal and fair opportunity to live a great life and we need to make sure that our workforce is a diverse entity. Only then, will the battle against institutional racism be won.

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