Donald Sterling has come to dominate the national space in a way that should be quite vexing to any of us who hold certain values dear. Ever since Sterling’s “girlfriend,” or in whatever capacity that young woman served, spilled the beans about his racist core, news of one kind or another relative to this guy seems to have secured a permanent spot on the media menu. And to individuals long hip to the Sterling saga, the hoopla — even when it accentuates the negative, like instances of his oafish conduct – rubs them very much the wrong way. It’s perfectly understandable if among us are folks jarred by a character, whose off-color behavior is nothing new, being given non-stop visibility.
To Sterling’s name, those folks rightly say, is attached a dossier that should have long ago short-circuited his ownership of any NBA franchise. Enough was known of Sterling’s slumlord practices in the real estate empire he built in Los Angeles, for his fitness for ownership to have become an issue. On the contrary, the team owner’s hat he wore probably offered a veneer of respectability his tainted track record in real estate did not.
Some keen media people who had been on to the Sterling model well before it became a national cause célèbre in late April, saw the explosion of media interest in pretty near pseudo-event terms. One sports writer who had chronicled some of the Sterling misdeeds years ago was fit to be tied because of this inexcusably late frenzy of media curiosity. A Daily Beast contributor recounted for readers some newsreel-worthy slumlord Sterling action, where he evicted from a flooded apartment a blind tenant, an African American woman who was a punctual rent payer (Sterling arbitrarily refused to accept the payments), whose sole transgression allegedly was her color not being “right.”
There are those who have known Sterling to be that kind of guy. And while they appreciate this class A bigot being no longer left unscathed, at least as far as ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers is concerned, they remain none too thrilled that dispatching Sterling to the sidelines, where he deserves to be (NBA players’ no-nonsense intentions having clearly been a major influence), was so long in coming. Whether or not justifiably, there was no shortage of talk from persons supposedly in the know, that the handling of Sterling with kid gloves by former NBA commissioner David Stern played large in the Clippers owner being allowed to keep on stepping.
The rest of us tardy arrivals at the Sterling show have watched its real-time unfolding, soap opera trappings and all. He’s not a racist. His privacy was violated. He’s okay with the team being sold. He’s not okay with the team being sold. The wife is the one legally authorized to deal. He’s suing the NBA for a billion dollars. Etc, etc. On the privacy violation bit, by the way, good luck with that. If it comes to pass, some attorney, or maybe a whole gang of them, will presumably be handsomely paid to argue that those racially toxic remarks Sterling made on tape don’t mean squat.
As if all of this weren’t enough, already, there’s recently been a new dynamic thrown into the narrative, threatening yet again to scramble our good-and-evil sensibilities. Entering the Sterling/Clippers orbit as a duly accredited player, filthy rich former Microsoft CEO and team owner wannabe Steve Ballmer, offering to buy the Clippers for two billion dollars! It’s the Clippers, folks. Simply because they now have a fine coach in Doc Rivers and personnel that make them a fairly respectable team doesn’t warrant dispensing with reality to this extent. It’s the Clippers, bought by Sterling for a reported $12.5 million in 1981 and languishing as the NBA’s doormat for most of their existence. So, whither this $2 billion abomination?
It sets us to thinking about the whole morality thing. If that outrageous Ballmer deal is where the Clippers’ fate is headed, how’s that for just deserts for the bad guy here? Are we about to be given perhaps the ultimate free-market object lesson in how absolutely rotten behavior gets rewarded? For all the Sterlings’ (the wife reportedly was no innocent bystander) grungy slumlord tactics in which persons of color were targeted; for Donald Sterling’s reputed perception of team ownership as a white guy giving employment to some mostly black and brown young men; the Sterling brand may wind up on the sweet side of its biggest payoff ever. Go figure.
“Class warfare” gets tossed around for the most part on the conservative side conceivably to gin up backlash against vehement protestation by the “other” class that in fact doesn’t exist. Not in the pretty much orderly democracy we share within these borders. It takes episodes like the Sterling drama to remind us sometimes that we aren’t, here, a society that’s likely to go hog wild upon learning of a guy’s deplorable mistreatment of our fellows in the course of amassing more millions than he knows how to spend. That, like in ’74 when one president resigned, another replaced him and, as one commentator observed, “not one soldier left the garrison,” a high roller laying out two billion for a team not worth it, elicits from us a mere shrug and, back to business as usual.