The Donald Sterling Mess

By on May 8, 2014

David SterlingAfter a lifetime of hearing about sensationalized stories like this one and after my initial reaction to Donald Sterling’s (left) racist comments, my focus quickly became more about how his privacy had been violated by another individual.  I thought about the lack of ethics of the person who recorded and leaked the conversation and their questionable motivation.  Because I’m a private person, I’m sensitive to the privacy of others.  Still, I’m curious about how all the involved parties will sort out this mess.

Sheedy & LongThe story broke and we discovered Sterling had racist/slaveholder views.  Ironically, he was about to receive a second award from the LA chapter of the NAACP (he had been given one in 2010) despite his background of mistreating minority tenants of buildings he owns and being sued for ageism and racism by former LA Clipper coach and NBA great Elgin Baylor (right, on a 1968 SI cover with Jerry West).  We deduced the NAACP awards were for Sterling’s financial donations to the organization, and possibly to its head, who has since resigned in implied admittance of the exposed incompetence and/or corruption.  We also discovered that the person who unethically recorded (and goaded Sterling into) the conversation that exposed his racist views is someone who considers herself his “right arm” and who was on his payroll, although she comes across as his mistress (who is currently being sued by Sterling’s estranged wife to return anything that could be perceived as common-law property).   Not surprisingly, the mistress (left, with Sterling) gave an interview to Barbara Walters.  All the interview did was make Sterling seem like the victim of Sterling and mistresssomeone that was self-serving, gold-digging, delusional (she said in an interview that said she will one day “become President of the United States”), disloyal, and not very smart.  The media has done what’s expected of them by pouncing on and milking the story for everything it’s worth.  No one in the entire process is doing anything that’s really surprising.  What are now topics of conversation as a result of the story are that:

-Bigotry exists, often hand-in-hand with hypocrisy

-The privacy of individuals is being violated by other individuals in an increasing number of ways (attention:  Glassholes)

-The public is very quick to judge

-Too many people who lack talent, character, and any kind of ethic feel they are entitled to fame

-The media is only too happy to feed into the frenzy created by a sensational story like this one

Spike LeeI read Sterling had a conversation years ago with Spike Lee at a dinner in New York City where he said all NBA players should be paid $500,000 a year because they couldn’t get a job doing anything else.  He makes a somewhat valid point and it’s not like the rest of us don’t get resentful when we hear how much professional athletes are paid and haven’t thought the same thing to some extent*.  He just doesn’t bother filtering what he says.  I’m not sure how much of a break the guy deserves but, come on, he’s eighty years old.  Even then, we have to remember that he didn’t make his controversial statements publicly.  Still, you have to wonder why, if he has such a low opinion of NBA players and blacks, he owns a team in the first place.  “Conflicted” is probably the most appropriate word here.  Case in point, this article:

I think Sterling is like a guy I know who told me “I’m not racist; I hate everybody.”  Guys like this only use the particular group you belong to for the purposes of specifically knowing how to mistreat and denigrate you.  I find relief in knowing this guy isn’t only a hateful jerk to minorities.

Clippers logoBeyond the Clippers organization and blacks in general, I’m not sure who Sterling should apologize to, especially since it wasn’t like he gave his opinions in an interview or other public forum.  I feel badly for Clippers players who, in spite of what’s going on and having to feel deflated knowing what their owner thinks of them, have won their first series of the playoffs.  I’m not questioning the Warriors as players, but you have to wonder how much their heart was into trying to beat the team whose owner was outed as racist as the series was being played.  The person who should most apologize, to Sterling, the Clippers and the public, is Sterling’s mistress, but I don’t see that happening.  Not only should we not expect an apology, we shouldn’t be surprised if a reality show comes out of all this.

I guess the NBA should be commended for reacting so quickly and decisively to the public outcry to the leaked recordings, but I’m not sure there are legal grounds to ban him from the NBA for life and fine him $2.5 million.  Isn’t it illegal to record someone’s private conversation without their consent unless a law enforcement agency does it because they have strong evidence that a crime has been or will be committed?  Unless making racist comments in private to someone you trust is a crime or there are relevant moral clauses in owners’ contracts with the NBA, I think Sterling has a strong legal leg to stand on in fighting the ban and fine.  Whether he’d want to continue a relationship with the Clippers organization and the NBA after what’s happened is another thing since no one will want to work for or with him.  To make things more complicated, Sterling’s wife Shelly (below right) is co-owner of the Clippers, which he’s required to sell as part of the ban.

Shelly SterlingAt eighty years old, with all his wealth, and having recently been revealed as having cancer, I wonder why Sterling just doesn’t retire and spend the rest of his days doing enjoyable things like traveling.  Maybe he obtains gratification from dealing with and being a source of aggravation.  Looking at what he thinks of his team, his relationships with his wife and “right arm”, and how he’s ready to fight the NBA, maybe adversarial and abusive relationships are what keep him going.  Now that I think about it and having lived in New York City, I don’t think that mind set is all that uncommon.

I’m curious about how this will all end and if/what precedents will be set.  I don’t need to know the blow by blow but, because I read and watch the news, getting dragged through every detail will be unavoidable.


May 8, 2014

*It’s not that I don’t have an appreciation for the game.  I grew up being a huge NBA and college basketball fan and playing with the neighborhood guys every chance I got.   The game has just lost its appeal for me.  Maybe because it’s become more about ego and money at the pro level and the best college players leave to become pros after a year or two.

On the topic of racism and basketball, in the new biography, “Michael Jordan: The Life” the Bulls legend says he was racist against white people as a teen.  Considering that he grew up in North Carolina, his response to the bigotry he must have been subjected to seems justifiable.  I knew a really nice white guy who grew up in North Carolina who told me he didn’t realize the word “nigger” was racist until he joined the service. He said he was “raised thinking that’s what they were called” and felt awful once he found out otherwise.  I didn’t ask him whether or not he grew up with a television.  Here’s an article about the book excerpt:

Naturally, after I make a comment about the egos of NBA players, Kevin Durant gives this wonderful and touching speech upon receiving this year’s MVP award: 

Does anyone else find it coincidental that two major players in this story are Sterling and (NBA Commissioner Adam) Silver?

This is completely unrelated but does any sensible person see the Monica Lewinsky Vanity Fair essay and related news headlines/articles as anything more than a cry for attention from Lewinsky and desperation for readership by the media?  From the little I’ve read, Lewinsky’s already making herself the focus of a 2016 Hillary presidential run, making Hillary’s assessment when she was first lady that Lewinsky was a “narcissistic loony toon” seem fair and accurate.

Added May 10, 2014:   I stand corrected in that V Stiviano, the woman who recorded the Donald Sterling racist comments, isn’t actually his mistress, although that was Sterling’s goal.  In justifying his comments in another recorded conversation, Sterling says he was “trying to have sex with her.”  I’m looking forward to this story to stop being news.

About Dan Walker

As part of an Air Force family, I went to elementary school in Great Falls, MT, junior high in Cheyenne, WY and high school and college in the San Francisco Bay Area, graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree in business. I was fortunate to have worked for great companies in Silicon Valley (Oracle Corp) and Hollywood (Miramax Films). I also lived and worked (primarily in financial services, which has no great companies) for eight years in Manhattan, New York City. I now reside in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley.

8 comments on “The Donald Sterling Mess

  1. Jeremy Walker on said:

    Great article! Your thoughts on Sterling is exactly how I see it. I liked your focus on the issue of a private conversation going public. On the Barbara Walters special, did Stiviano say the purpose of recording? It is obvious she goaded him. Was she a plant of someone getting back at him? How did TMZ get this and why are they are not talking? I think I could go on and on this.

    Charles Barkley had a good response:

    • Dan Walker on said:

      I didn’t watch the entire Walters interview, just the bits they showed on the news. Sterling must have made similar comments prior in order for Stiviano to have felt compelled to record the conversation. To what end I’m not sure but, without looking further into it, it just seems self-serving.

  2. The subject and concerns are troubling but I agree he has been wronged.
    However with the many similar reports of repetitive behavior I find it troubling the league waited until now. Too much has been made with an unknown provider.

  3. Pablito on said:

    Does the way his hypocrisy was exposed exonerate him with the players on his team or with Clipper fans? As despicable as the vengeful secret taping was or is, it does not make me want to play for that owner or give him $ for a seat to watch his team. One wrong exposing another wrong does not make either of them less reprensible, does it?

    • Dan Walker on said:

      Thanks for your comments/questions, Pablito. I’ll respond to them one at a time:

      -I don’t think I stated or implied that it would. That’s up to the Clippers players and fans. I can’t speak for them.
      -No non-racist would want to work for that guy now. The players need all the support they can get, and I think they’re getting it. Personally, because of what’s happened, I’d love to see them win it all with Sterling completely out of the picture. Before this happened, I was happy for the players and fans that the team made the playoffs (which they’ve only done six times since 1984) because the Clippers have always been perpetual cellar-dwellers and an LA punch line.
      -I really do see the story as more about personal opinion and invasion of privacy than about racism and, being minorities within minorities myself, I’m very sensitive when it comes to the topic of bigotry. I wanted to look at the story objectively and not jump on the angry anti-Sterling bandwagon, which is easy to do and is what everyone else is doing. Sterling’s life has been and will continue to be hell because of his words, especially now that the aftermath is being played out in public. He’ll pay the price for what he said for the rest of his life. The coach of the Clippers refused to take Sterling’s call when the story broke, although I don’t know what he can say that will convince people to forgive him and move forward. Sterling, his wife, and Stiviano all say he is not a racist, but that’s not enough in the face of damning evidence to the contrary. Apparently, he has no PR people. Like I said, it’s a mess.

      This is an issue I’m content to invest minimal emotion into and let the concerned parties sort out. It’s not like he compromised our country’s security by leaking thousands of NSA files to media outlets, then hid in Russia on the invitation of a political leader who has positioned himself as an enemy of our country. Nor is it like he initiated a confrontation with someone because he was a black teen male with the intention of killing the teen, killed him, then got off scot free. It’s also not as though he kidnapped hundreds of young girls to sell them off as wives. Any of those things are much more worth being infuriated and vindictive about. By comparison, what’s going on with Donald Sterling is like intervening in a family squabble. I don’t even intervene in my own family’s squabbles.

      As a result of this story, I think people in positions of power will show more discretion when talking in private with even people they trust (or at least want to have sex with).

      • Pablito on said:

        Dan, It’s a little larger than a family squabble. No one in my family hangs around with NBA legends like Magic Johnson. And his extended family is an NBA team composed primarily of men who belong to a race he does not want his “girlfriend” to bring to his very public games. The message is downright nefarious and evokes the days of the Minstrel performers. I appreciate your point that he did not publicly announce his racism; it was done for him. But Sterling was condemning her public appearances with anyone of color, which is a much wider arc than a private “family” issue.

        • I’m starting to think you’re an NBA attorney assigned to the Sterling case or someone with a lot of stock in CNN.

          I was using the term “family squabble” as a metaphor in referencing how the Clippers and NBA will fix the Sterling problem within themselves. The article was meant to be open-minded and objective about the issue and to look at more of its angles. It was in response to all the “Donald Sterling is the devil” news stories I saw at every turn. I wanted to inject reason, understanding, and perspective into an emotional issue.

          What message are you referring to? No “message” was being made by Sterling. The guy was talking to someone else in a private conversation. He wasn’t saying everyone should think the way he does. He even says the regrettable comments he made are not the way he really thinks and admits he made stupid comments in the heat of the moment. Nobody in their right mind would think, “He’s right, I don’t want people I know hanging out with blacks” based on the Sterling recording. If anything, people who already think like that might now realize how absurd and racist their thinking is.

          What’s odd is that not only does your last sentence contradict itself by implying that what Sterling said to Stiviano in private has implications beyond the two of them (there’s no reason it should by definition of a private conversation), you argued against your own point by agreeing that what was said was directed at one person and in private.

          As the events progress in the aftermath of Sterling’s comments, he just looks worse and more pathetic and is eating crow on a level few people have to experience (except maybe guys like Michael Richards, Riley Cooper and Richie Ingognito). The person most damaged by Sterling’s comments is Sterling. Actually, I don’t know who else was damaged by his comments at all. His comments were not a reflection on Magic Johnson, who was in the photograph that was the focus of the recorded/leaked conversation. As for Sterling, his NBA life and social life are both over. He’s been made a pariah by the leaked recordings. I’m not sure what more you want done. Maybe seeing him lynched will finally satisfy your need for vengeance and drama.

          Even though the article implicitly covered the topics in your questions, I still responded to your post. It’s clear no matter how I respond you still want to be angry and wag your finger at Sterling (and me). You resort to throwing out reason in beating the same hateful point into the ground and adding drama to a story that should never have made it past the tabloids. Being myopic, judgemental and angry is as self-defeating coming from a bleeding heart liberal as they are coming from a right-wing or religious extremist. Your unbending and sustained anger would only make sense if you were black, a Clippers player, a paying Clippers fan, or an NBA executive (and any related lawyers). You’re not only trying to make the story more significant than it is, you’re saying it’s wrong to put it into perspective. Good luck convincing me (or any level-headed person) of that.

          I’m trusting the involved parties to go through their processes to resolve the issue with the goal of moving forward with the same focus the Clipper players used to get past their first series in the playoffs.

          Speaking of which, the Clippers and Thunder are now 2-2 in their Western Conference semi-final series. It’s hard to root against either team because of what the Clippers are going through in the wake of Sterling’s comments and Kevin Durant, who made a $1 million donation to Oklahoma tornado victims in May 2013 and made such a great speech in accepting his MVP trophy, plays for the Thunder.

  4. sbo555 on said:

    I Love Clipper Go Go

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