NBA rightly ousted Donald Sterling; let’s not pretend pro sports are now pure

After an NBA investigation into racially insensitive comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, Commissioner Adam Silver announced Sterling is banned from the league for life. (Reuters)
Mike Wise
Columnist May 3

Crazy Old Racist Donald can’t come to the games anymore. Great. Beautiful.

But spare us the “We Are One.” We Are Not.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Not even close.

The week is done, and in seven days Donald Sterling, who prefers segregation in matters of housing and NBA arenas, has become the most vilified human being in sports since Jerry Sandusky, a convicted pedophile.

Feel better?

We caught the bigot, all right — caught him cold.

Adam Silver did more than ban the Clippers’ owner for life from the very league that enabled and enriched Sterling since 1981; the newly minted NBA commissioner meted out social justice, proving to be a citizen of the world before he was the league’s highest-ranking attorney.

The on-rushing tide of sponsors and possibly his workforce pulling out was impetus for Silver’s take-that-old-man ruling.

But so what? For many of us who believe the planet can be better, we felt the tingle at that “banned for life” moment, as if we were watching Michael Douglas in “The American President” deliver his stirring “Your 15 minutes are up” speech.

He does represent us.

Unexpected, no, the unseemliness of a billionaire owner having his racially warped thoughts outed in the most intrusive way possible — audio of a private conversation leaked to TMZ without his consent — ends up becoming this galvanizing scene, a communal bonding over the common enemy.

It brought a league and its peripheral NBA family closer together than it has been in 10 years, after the former Ron Artest went after a fan in the Pistons’ stands, when the Malice at the Palace became every bad white America stereotype: violent, young black men out of touch with their fan base throw roundhouses with Caucasian customers.

But now it is more than a week since Sterling’s fall.

And just as that awful brawl unfairly broad-brushed a fraternity of players and a league still in the honeymoon phase of its marriage to hip-hop culture, the public flogging of a strange and racially repulsive octogenarian can’t camouflage the truth about this supposed one-world reformation of the NBA.

What’s that saying on the playground when you want to play the winner of the game transpiring on the court? “Next.”

Who’s got next?

The DeVos family in Orlando, which has sunk more millions into anti-gay marriage campaigns than starting back courts lately? No wonder former Magic player John Amaechi waited until he retired to come out.

Magic owner Rich DeVos, once asked about the backlash he received for serving on President Reagan’s heartless HIV/AIDS commission, essentially responded, “Hate the sinner and the sin.”

“Conduct yourself properly, which is a pretty solid Christian principle,” he said.

Here’s another pretty solid Christian principle: Love thy neighbor, even your retired gay center.

Dan Gilbert didn’t get rich off LeBron in Cleveland. He made his billions in the mortgage industry, whereby his company funneled subprime loans to the crooks at Countrywide, who only helped create an economic cataclysm.

Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward are two of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s owners. You know how they got rich? Oh, ruining the environment through fracking — at least more than $1 million of which went to an anti-gay marriage group. Jason Collins surely won’t show up on their arena’s kiss cam.

If you look into Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s bona fides, you find out he is essentially a made man in Moscow, as politically connected and Putin-esque as they come.

This isn’t meant to minimize Sterling’s words or beliefs. It’s not meant to elevate the financial and moral wrongs outside the racial spectrum.

It is meant to point out these Faustian bargains we make every time we go through the turnstiles. What last week’s episode laid bare was that everyone — fellow owners, players, league executives, fans, media — was willing to tolerate Sterling’s racism until it reached the point of damaging their own livelihoods.

The capper to this sordid tale was that the woman who brought Sterling to justice was about 50 years his junior, might have broken California taping law and is now a “get” for Barbara Walters. Asked whether Sterling would apologize, V. Stiviano told Walters, “Only God knows.”

“I wish I had just paid her off,” a remorseless Sterling told DuJour magazine in a quote from an exclusive interview released Friday.

It all makes clear the NBA will tolerate anything its customer base will. Sterling was only forced out when it was clear the NBA’s revenue streams might stop flowing. Should we really pat ourselves on the back for social change?

It’s damn sad to know that Sterling wanting his biracial friend/mistress not to bring black people to Clippers games and to take down her Instagram photo with Magic Johnson detonated his ownership rule — when we already had a 10-year-old public record of the kind of discriminatory housing tactics that lead to modern segregation. And we inexplicably did nothing about it!

We treated him as if he were the original owner of the local football team, avowed segregationist George Preston Marshall, circa 1960: awfully difficult to stomach but not impeachable.

Shame on us.

Yes, we got one of the bad guys. Like Capone on tax evasion, Sterling was found out much later and on lesser charges than he should have been found out on years ago.

But how many good guys really remain, and who is next? While we struck a major victory against racism this week, at what point are we going to have the conviction enough to go after other societal ills with the same mob-rule zeal?

When is classism, homophobia and the naming of sports teams after racial slurs going to become as odious to corporate sponsors and league employees as crassly stated bigotry was last week?

The workforce doesn’t have to be 76 percent black to accomplish that. You just have to be 100 percent human.

For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

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