I love basketball—particularly NBA basketball. Though my personal on-the-court time is slowing down, I remain an avid fan of the game. Usually a foregone conclusion for the stronger seeded teams, the first round of the NBA playoffs have been the most entertaining and competitive games we’ve seen in a long time. The upstart Wizards have the city of Washington buzzing like it’s an election year. Vince Carter is cheating Father Time with his buzzer beating antics (much to my chagrin as a Spurs fan). Stephen Curry is further solidifying his place as one of the best shooters today—and maybe all-time. Then the bomb dropped.
I never thought I’d see an ESPN headline read, “TMZ reports…” Wait, what? TMZ follows around celebrities and documents mundane moments in their lives. There’s no reason to believe they’d report anything SportsCenter-worthy. And I know SportsCenter. I’m the rerun SportsCenter guy. I’m that dude who watches the same SportsCenter highlights four times in a row, just in case I missed something. TMZ and SportsCenter are like oil and water.Alas, TMZ obtained some audio of Clippers’ owner, Donald Sterling, making some pretty derogatory racist statements during a conversation with his girlfriend. Those statements included a plea for her not to associate with black people, a reference to a photo taken with Magic Johnson, and a request to remove pictures showing she associates with black people. The authenticity of the audio is in question and the NBA has decided not to take action until it is authenticated.
Here’s my problem. This isn’t new news! Really, it isn’t. People who follow the NBA and know Donald Sterling always knew he was a racist. Bomani Jones was screaming this from the rooftops years ago. Nobody listened.
Let me just give you a few examples from Sterling’s concerning past—and none of these need audio authentication. A 2003 suit alleged that Sterling refused to rent to Latinos because they “smoke, drink, and just hang around buildings.” It also stated that he felt “black tenants smell and attract vermin.” That case was settled confidentially. In 2009, some of Sterling’s former tenants alleged his property managers used racial slurs against them and refused to follow leasing terms. The case was settled for $2.765 million dollars, though Sterling never admitted liability. According to former GM, Elgin Baylor, who also filed a lawsuit against him, Sterling “would bring women into the locker room after games, while [Clippers] players were showering, and make comments such as, ‘Look at those beautiful black bodies.’” Today, all of these stories are resurfacing—and it’s killing the NBA playoffs.
Here’s my thing. Where was all of this years ago when we already knew about Sterling racism? While I thought the Clippers removing their warm ups and wearing their gear inside out was a nice gesture, Sterling still cuts their checks. They still play for a man who is a known racist—notwithstanding the TMZ tape’s authenticity. Now Chris Paul wants to address this “aggressively” and figure out if it was Sterling’s voice on the tape? Now De’Andre Jordan wants to post a black Instagram picture in silent protest?
Where was this when they were exploring their free agent options? Where was this conviction that they wouldn’t play for a racist owner then? As Jalen Rose says, I guess “gettin’ dem checks” was more important then. Now Al Sharpton is threatening a boycott if the NBA doesn’t suspend Sterling (of course Sharpton is, since it’s garnered national attention). Now players on Sterling’s team are staging silent protests. Now people are calling for Sterling’s job. And it’s destroying one of the greatest first rounds of playoff basketball we’ve seen in decades.
I’ve written this before and I still believe it’s true. Trending calls for justice always fade away. Just wait it out. The next social media trend will lead people to another topic. It’s those who endure in the call for justice who effect real change. Imagine if those black college students in the 60’s stopped after one sit-in. Imagine if King and others only organized one bus boycott to highlight the injustices of the Jim Crow South. Dropping warm-ups at center court and wearing clothes inside out is great for the trending, social media culture, but it might not be a statement that produces real change. That takes time and real effort.
So can you guys do me a favor? Can you give me my playoffs back? I want to see the Splash Brothers do work. I want to see Tim Duncan’s potential last run. I want to see John Wall and Bradley Beal come of age. I don’t want to be inundated with coverage of a man who doesn’t deserve my time. That’s unfair to NBA fans who already know who Sterling is and what he’s done.
With that said, I do hope the league makes some kind of statement now that the issue has been raised again. Should something be done? Absolutely. Whether it’s a fine (though what’s a fine to a billionaire?) or a suspension, the NBA should act soon. Maybe that will bring the trend seeking media peace. And I can get back to watching the game I love without TMZ scrolling across my SportsCenter ticker. It’s better that way.