Editorial: A tired old racist slam dunked

22:01, Apr 30 2014

Editorial: Nobody's using the phrase "wet bus ticket" this time.

Instead, United States national basketball commissioner Adam Silver has driven the whole bus over Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

A NZ$2.9 million fine and a lifetime ban from attending games or practices didn't suffice as penalty for the man now reviled as a racist.

Silver has also invoked the support of other owners to force Sterling to sell his club.

Admittedly, it's not as though this would leave Sterling financially ruined, nor even particularly out of pocket. Potentially the reverse. The billionaire stands to make hundreds of millions of dollars from such a sale.

But it was an impressively emphatic response - maximum penalties on all fronts from the young, rookie commissioner against a man whose words have stuck in the craw of more than just the nation's basketballers and their legions of fans.


Given that sponsors had been deserting the franchise, and players themselves were considering industrial action, Silver's bullet could be seen as no more than a textbook piece of swift and decisive problem management.

Silver did come across as having been personally distraught before delivering what could fairly be seen as an institutional act of revulsion.

You might think that a "racist" tag would be hard to pin on the owner of a team of very highly paid, mostly black, professionals, in a sport dominated by the same, and with a mixed-race girlfriend.

The thing is, he has long been a contentious figure, accused at one point of running the franchise as if it was a plantation. He's even been sued, but not successfully.

So there's a swaggeringly bad reputation leading up the release of the now-famous tape in which he complains to his girlfriend that she shouldn't have posted pictures of herself with black athletes Magic Johnson and Matt Kemp, nor should she bring black companions with her to games.

Though Sterling deserves no sympathy, his downfall was to some degree a set-up. The recording makes clear that she is provoking him to make comments.

Sterling, who is himself Jewish, doesn't tell her not to associate with blacks. "There's nothing wrong with minorities - they're fabulous". And he acknowledges that Johnson is an admirable man. But "it's too bad you can't admire him privately" rather than posting a photo on Instagram "for the world to see".

He even encourages her to love black people - but, again, "I want you to love them privately".

Sterling, bless his mean little heart, comes across as a man who hasn't enjoyed what some of his own unreconstructed friends or acquaintances have been saying about those photos. Also, as a man who reads a great deal of spurious significance into testiness between blacks and Hispanics.

"I'm living in a culture and I have to live in that culture," he says.

Poor him. From our faraway perspective it certainly seems he's racist all right - not belligerently so, in this case, but in a tired, assailed, defensive and crashingly un-selfaware way.

Racism is often portrayed as essentially simplistic. In many ways it is. But not all. To judge from Sterling's voice on that tape, cleaving to terribly dodgy morality sounds both difficult and exhausting.

Say it angrily, or with as much sympathy as you can muster for an unlovely man, but either way Silver was right when he said Sterling and his views had no place in that sport. Nor any others, right?


The Southland Times