Commentary: Will the NBA Give Donald Sterling a Free Pass?

Billionaire sportsman touches off a firestorm with racist remarks about Black people.

Posted: 04/28/2014 10:35 AM EDT

Now, no Black person can be surprised when somebody with a bankbook as fat as Donald Sterling’s launches into a racist tirade that reminds all of us how dark and how raw the issue of color in America is.

Though we continue to hear from the U.S. Supreme Court that color is no longer significant, despite a mountain of statistics to the contrary, those of us with Black skin know, deep down, that color is all that matters in many sectors of American society.

Sterling, the eccentric owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, offered the latest evidence when he told his girlfriend, a woman who is half Black and half Mexican, that she should not let the public know Black folks are part of her entourage of friends.

According to various reports, Sterling told her he was bothered she was telling everybody that she hung out with people who were, as Sterling might as well have put it, n-----s.

It might be impolitic to use the latter word, but no other reflects the depth of what white men like Sterling think of Black people. His tirade on Blackness went viral, and while he can offer a retraction of whatever sort suits him, we know this: He’s no different than a lot of white, wealthy men who hate, to their souls, Black folks.

A man like Sterling wants the hipness that’s part of Black pop culture and has no problem courting Black women, as his romance with V. Stiviano does more than merely suggest. But bedding a Black woman as beautiful as Stiviano — aka Vanessa Perez, Monica Gallegos and Maria Valdez — isn’t the same as having her friends hanging out at his mansion or sitting next to them at a Clippers game.

Still, to pick on Sterling is to go fishing Chinook salmon in the Snake River with a net. You can’t help but catch your limit even if you don’t try hard. Sterling is what he is: a rich white man with no moral compass.

In a sport built on Black talent, Sterling is unfit to invest in it, which is the question we should pose to the NBA: What will the league, owned and run by rich white men, do to one of its own?

We watched as David Stern, Adam Silver’s predecessor as NBA commissioner, tried to police the behavior of Black players. Stern fined them for misconduct on the floor; he suspended them for actions outside the arena; he ordered them to dress a certain way; he delved deeply into their past to judge their associations; and, worst of all, he put a salary structure in place that doesn’t allow players to get their worth.

But all of that is about the worker bees, not the white men who own the teams and the arenas, the white men who are profiting off the Black talent they don’t want to see beyond the arena floor.

Perhaps Donald Sterling is the lone owner who has thoughts so bigoted that he is an affront to Black folks. But I doubt it, just as I doubt that Cliven Bundy, the renegade rancher from Nevada who spawned a cult until his racist remarks led even conservative Republicans to distance themselves from him, had misspoken his views about race.

Bundy and Sterling are in good company, but is that company, in Sterling’s case, too despicable to let Sterling remain in this league of owners who have the power, the privilege and the public profiles to surely shape America into the colorblind society we often talk about but are decades away from seeing?

Adam Silver, you’re now on the clock.

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(Photo: David Livingston/Getty Images)

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