NBA commissioner Adam Silver showed the kind of fortitude we want to see in leadership but seldom do. Silver’s decision to ban Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life Tuesday was audacious, utterly unexpected and ruthless.
"We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling's views," Silver said in a news conference. "They simply have no place in the NBA."
Silver was right. The racist views that Sterling spewed, views voiced to a biracial woman who was his mistress, found no haven in Silver’s NBA. They were baseless opinions about Blacks wrapped tightly around yesteryear’s hatred; they were reminders of slavery and Jim Crow.
No American, no leader should ever accept naked hate, and in his first challenge as commissioner, Silver refused to.
Doubtless, Sterling’s views aren’t his alone. America remains a society far too willing to hear racism and too cavalier to do much about it. Much of the former is said in private, behind oak doors where Black folks and others of color don’t have ready access.
Such hatred then seeps into places it doesn’t belong, and it surely doesn’t belong in sports, one of the last bastions of meritocracy: a place where Americans ought to be blind to color.
Yet most know color-blindness is a tall tale. It sounds so principled; it sounds so American -way-ish. But what rings most true about color-blindness is the myth of it all, a myth that the rants of men like Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy, Riley Cooper and Michael Richards put a voice and a face to it.
Americans can never find that face attractive, because it is the ugliness of bigotry and racism and sexism and homophobia and anti-Semitism and any other “isms” that separate Blacks, Latinos and white folks. Ugliness has never proved timid about showing itself.
It showed itself in Sterling, whose blistering commentary about Blacks offended anybody who sees hope for a country that remains divided into Black and white, into separate and unequal.
The pity is that what Silver did in banning Sterling doesn’t close the racial divide. Silver, an attorney, can’t bridge a gap as wide as this is. Yet what the NBA commissioner can and did do was display for everybody an unbending belief that Americans deserve better from their captains of industry.
To argue otherwise is to make peace with foolishness. While no one is denying Sterling the right to his racism, few people are stepping forward to applaud the man for it, and in a sport where the talent is largely Black, he simply left Silver no choice but to banish him forever.
Still, Silver must know he can’t banish the mindset that led to such ill remarks, nor can he be so gullible as to believe that Sterling’s tirade about Black folks is uncommon among men and women with power, privilege and 10-figure bank accounts.
Such views do, however, have their consequences, even for the uber-rich. Now, Sterling knows the high price for his, and Americans should be pleased that the NBA hired a decisive, no-nonsense commissioner who, at least in his early months of running the greatest show on hardwood, was able to distinguish between what sullies its image and what does not.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Kathy Willens)