TELANDER: Clippers situation hardly black and white
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist May 31, 2014 1:16AM
Ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (center) is poised to buy the Clippers after the embarrassing Donald Sterling drama. | Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Updated: July 2, 2014 6:25AM
As I type this, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is prepared to purchase the Los Angeles Clippers from the embattled Sterling family for $2 billion.
As with any franchise sale, Ballmer must wait for approval from the NBA Board of Governors. That should happen. Ballmer is rich and seems clean.
Word is he might be overpaying by as much as $500 million, just to blow past other bidders, for a team that was thought to be worth about $600 million. Whatever. Dude’s worth $20 billion. He’ll be OK.
So will the NBA. So will V. Stiviano. So will LeBron James and other player/protesters. So will the allegedly mentally incapacitated Donald Sterling himself.
But I have this feeling the rest of us have been taken on a naïve joyride of embarrassment and fraudulence and puffed-up dignity during this Clippers farce.
Let’s start with the infamous tape itself, the one wherein Sterling makes racist comments about black people to daft, gold-digging girlfriend Stiviano — the self-described ‘‘silly rabbit’’ — on the tape that was leaked to TMZ and which made the NBA crazy.
Sterling has claimed the recording was made without his knowledge or permission, an illegal act in California. Moreover, the tape was made in a private setting and was leaked without his permission. It was hateful and disgusting, but it was private. And it occurred months before the public heard it.
If you listen to the tape, Stiviano oddly eggs on the clearly agitated, reluctant and possibly senile Sterling. Why?
She claims it was to be able to show him later how bad his thoughts are. V. Stiviano: high school grad, boob-job recipient, psychiatrist. One supposes gossip-source TMZ, thus, was the perfect place for further therapy.
Ridiculous as all this might be, a real and serious issue resides within. Do we really want word police wielding power over us for things we say in our homes, no matter how offensive? Looked at with logical extension, this is a dangerous precedent, a freedom nullifier of the type that flourished under East German Stasi police.
Sterling’s lawyers have argued, possibly correctly, that the morals clause for NBA owners exists for behavior in public and as it regards the team, not from within one’s home.
Yes, the NBA reacted swiftly and with full force by banning Sterling and forcing him to sell his team. But the league was disinterested in the looming possibility — leaked first by wife Shelly to interviewer Barbara Walters and then broadcast by ESPN and good old TMZ — that Sterling has Alzheimer’s disease and may have been suffering related dementia for as long as five years.
Do you really punish people whose minds are disintegrating?
This rush to judgment was inevitable since 80 percent of the players in the NBA are black or mixed-race. If new commissioner Adam Silver had gone easy on Sterling, there would have been a player boycott. The Miami Heat’s James stated that he would not be satisfied until all Sterling family members were out of the business. In short order, the Sterlings should all be gone.
So what was accomplished?
A lot of big shots dusted their hands, puffed up their chests and broke their arms patting themselves on the backs for removing the evil in our midst. Sterling may be a buffoon and an apparent racist, but he also had a black head coach and 12 black players out of 14 on his roster. He was set to win a lifetime achievement award from the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP, the organization that had honored him once before.
Ironically, the NBA is a business with very few white performers, especially American-born ones. This season’s leading scorer, rebounder, assist man, rookie of the year, sixth man, defensive player of the year and MVP are all black.
Sterling, the racist — the demented racist, remember — was not much of a real threat. If his tape had never become public, he could have quietly drifted off to gentle mindlessness. Almost humorously, J.J. Redick, the only white American on the Clippers, claims Sterling was reluctant to offer him a decent contract because Sterling couldn’t believe a white guy could be any good.
Again, what was gained in all this, besides symbolic virtue?
It might be that the NBA itself is a false idol for African-American youth. Make it to the big leagues and earn a fortune? Almost no chance, son.
But you want public racism, even if accidental, in something that matters?
Try this: California-based Google, which employs more than 40,000 people worldwide, has a black workforce of 2 percent. I don’t hear anything about Google CEO Larry Page being a racist. I’m sure he isn’t.
But it’s funny how we pick our targets, isn’t it?