Donald Sterling scandal merits an over-the-top reaction
By BILL DWYRE
LOS ANGELES — The opinion that Donald Sterling can no longer be an owner is incorrect. He would make an excellent plantation owner.
What a story. Just when you think you have seen it all …
The late Bill Thomas, as fine an editor as the Los Angeles Times ever had, preached a doctrine of reacting quickly to major news stories, but also finding a quiet place amid the uproar to really digest it. His point was that news-media noise often is more for the sake of other news media than a real measure of the story.
The noise these days, of course, is a brass band compared with the flutes and violins of yesteryear. Journalism is drowning under the volume of reactive rants. The old saying that whoever dies with the most toys wins has now been replaced by whoever shouts the loudest.
That being said, every bit of media noise and public anger — every statement of dismay and distrust made by anyone with a keyboard or a microphone, every written and broadcast rant — is justified in this one.
You want to take Sterling by the lapel and scream at him: “What were you thinking?” But of course, he wasn’t. Nor would you even want to hear more of his thoughts, because what has come out is probably only the tip of the iceberg.
This wasn’t Calvin Griffith in Waseca, Minn., in 1978, saying he was happy to have his Twins there because there were more white people in the state. This wasn’t Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder in 1988, talking about black athletes being better because they were bred for it from the days of slavery. This wasn’t Al Campanis in 1987, wrestling with “lack of necessities.”
Assuming these recordings are authentic, this was a full-blown, spill-your-guts, this-is-really-who-I-am-and-how-I-think expose. Campanis said that blacks had no buoyancy and couldn’t swim. That was stupid and racist, but if you knew Campanis, also more misguided than heartfelt.
Sterling, in essence, is purported to have said that blacks were not on the same level of humanity as whites. That is horrifying.
If the title hasn’t already been taken, you could write a book about this and call it the Perfect Storm.
A man, rich like a Rockefeller, has a wife of 50 years and a parade of female acquaintances less than half his age. One of the young women, one who may have had an ax to grind and a plan in mind, engages Sterling in a conversation that gets recorded. The recording somehow gets to TMZ, which breaks the story.
Whether Sterling was taped legally isn’t clear, but in this case score one for the new journalism of getting the story out there first and thinking about it later.
The Perfect Storm continues when the recording becomes public just as Sterling’s Los Angeles Clippers are taking a 2-1 series lead into Game 4 of an NBA playoff series with a hard-to-beat Golden State Warriors team.
Then there is the perfect timing. The news breaks on Sterling’s 80th birthday. Happy birthday, Donald.
Before Game 4, the Clippers make some team gestures of protest, but have had enough heart taken out of them to lack the competitive fire needed at this level and time of year. They are routed by the Warriors.
It may mark the first time that a sports owner has thrown his entire team under the bus during the most important time in its history.
This affects more than the players. Andy Roeser, the Clippers team president, releases a feeble statement expressing uncertainty that it was Sterling on the tape, thereby allowing himself to be turned into a pathetic lackey.
This brings us to tonight, Game 5 of the playoffs series. At Staples Center. A packed house. People paying lots of money to watch a team they love, owned by a man they now hate.
Could this be any stranger? Could there be any bigger challenge to focusing on basketball? Clippers star Chris Paul was asked about coming home tonight and all that might bring. He said, “I can’t say I won’t be a little nervous.”
Sterling has burned down his own house.
Another thing the aforementioned Bill Thomas taught was that, while everybody else is perseverating on what is now, the smart thing is to look at what is next.
One possibility is that Sterling, who loaned Jerry Buss part of the money he needed to buy the Los Angeles Lakers years ago, might be bailing out the Lakers once again.
New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has the sword in his hand. There has been talk of banning Sterling from the rest of the playoffs this year. That’s not enough, nor might there be many games left anyway.
There has been talk of suspending him for a year. Baseball tried that with former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott after she made a series of racist remarks. It didn’t work. A couple of years later, she stated her support of Adolf Hitler and was suspended for life.
There has been talk of a $1 million fine. Chump change.
Instead, how about allowing those Clippers players who no longer want to play for Sterling to have their contracts voided and become free agents? When Coach Doc Rivers said that he couldn’t imagine what Sterling could say to him that would make him want to coach the Clippers again next season, that was a hint that couldn’t be lost on the NBA.
How does a starting team that includes Kobe, CP3 and Blake Griffin sound to Lakers fans? Jim Buss goes from goat to hero.
Unfair to Clippers fans? Yes. Suitable punishment for Sterling? Yes.
Too crazy to actually happen? Not after what happened the last few days.
Bill Dwyre is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
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