It has been more than a generation since Donald Sterling bought the Los Angeles Clippers, and for almost that long he has been an embarrassment to the NBA.
There was the time he is said to have asked a potential coach “why you think you can coach these n------s.” There was the time he is said to have told one of his property supervisors he didn’t want to rent to Latinos and African Americans because the former “sit around and smoke and drink all day,” and the latter “smell.”
There was the complaint, from basketball great Elgin Baylor, that Sterling wanted a “Plantation-type structure” in which “poor black boys from the South” labored under a white coach.
There were the sexual harassment lawsuits, and the players’ complaints that he brought women into the locker room to “look at those beautiful black bodies” while his employees were showering.
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So it’s no surprise that the now-80-year-old billionaire with the gold chains and perpetual tan is once again being accused of boorish, racist behavior. In fact, in this era of ubiquitous digital recording, it’s not the least surprising that he has purportedly been caught on tape.
What is surprising – in a good way – is the swiftness with which the world has reacted this time. When the Cincinnati Reds’ owner Marge Schott was caught in 1992 making racist comments, it took seven years for Major League Baseball to force her to sell her majority interest in the team.
After gossip site TMZ.com posted the recording of a man identified as Sterling telling his biracial girlfriend to stop being seen with other black people, it took less than 36 hours for everyone from President Barack Obama to Sterling’s employees to express their revulsion. The Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP, on the verge of honoring Sterling for second time in five years for his civic contributions, wisely decided not to enable another reputational whitewash.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA All-Star, denounced him on behalf of the Players Association. Sterling’s estranged wife, who reportedly has been meeting with divorce lawyers, spoke out against him.
The Clippers turned their warm-ups inside out, donned black arm bands, then went out and lost to the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs. State Farm and CarMax said Monday that they were suspending their sponsorships. New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has promised a speedy investigation and a quick response from NBA owners. He must keep that promise.
Assuming the tape is authentic, the owners should do whatever they need to do to get rid of Sterling, ugly litigation included. It’s a new world, and the NBA has a new image, one that is global and multicultural and inclusive.
“We must have zero tolerance,” Sacramento Kings’ owner Vivek Ranadive, part of the NBA’s new brand, tweeted. He’s right.
Whole worlds can change in a generation. It’s time for this generation to leave behind Sterling and his repugnant beliefs.