On Donald Sterling, the NBA, Racist Symbols, Easy Victories, and A Wakeup Call That May Continue To Be Unheard


Donald Sterling was banned for life from the NBA Tuesday, in an unprecedented move by new commissioner, Adam Silver.  The Los Angeles Clippers owner, a habitually public racist, had long been ready for the gallows and today was the long-past due execution.

“We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views,” Silver said. “They simply have no place in the NBA.”

As noted previously, Sterling has had a long history of racism and seemingly discriminatory ways he ran his organization and reflected his opinions while in an exclusive position of power in sports.

It was an important moment for a league which is predominantly black, and for Silver, who needed to show he had a swift and brutal hand in his first major moment as commissioner.

Today was a loud, public victory against racism.  The symbol of hate was removed from his perch.

But it’s not always about symbols.  Sometimes it’s about progress.

How did we get here and why did it have to come to this?  Will this truly mean anything for the future?

Bomani Jones, who has become a popular voice in the past two days because of his strong and intelligent views on racial problems asked an important question today:

What he spoke of could be taken literally – and it will be shortly – but also should be taken philosophically.  We feel good today because we had an easy target and accomplished our goal of firing a bullet right through it.  But it was an enabling foundation who allowed Sterling to exist for all these years, feeling safe behind his status, with no one around him willing to take the first strike.

There is a lot of blame to go around.

We have the fans.  They came to games for years and lined the pockets of a bigot.  Not supporting him after his societal crimes became apparent would have been a strong move, but yet, one not taken.

We have the owners.  Look who suddenly decided to come out and speak?  Mark Cuban.  Two days after the following tweet…


…Cuban is now commenting with this:


Actions do speak louder than words, but words still make a sound.  For years owners allowed this man to do whatever he wanted.  Spoken words in a silent room of just a few [30] does make a difference.

We also have the players and coaches.  Chris Paul is a superstar and not the only one who has ever graced the Clippers depth chart.  Like those others, he had a choice and decided to play for the team.  He may have been traded there, but that five-year extension could not have been done without his will to stay and play for this owner.

Much the same is Doc Rivers.  He’s an NBA Championship winning coach.  After the Celtics were done with him, there sure would be a bunch of teams lined up for his services.  Yet he chose to coach the team of a racist.

But wait, this was a good team.  And for Rivers and Paul and others, you do not get to tell them to walk away from money or years of contractual insurance.  And the owners – how did we know they were not just worried about speaking out alone, or being wrong, having the facts, or making the mistake that could ruin their anti-trust exemption with the U.S. government.  And how could you blame fans who grew up on a team and could not just leave?  Who wants to listen to outsiders tell you to pick a new team? Or to not show up to the arena.  Or to stop wearing your team’s jerseys and enjoying your favorite players?…

It’s not just a symbol.  It’s life.  It’s emotion.  It’s human relations.

And it’s a complicated web of thought and actions that have consequences.

No where is it just a symbol.

So did we get rid of a necessary evil today that stood in the way of enjoying our incredibly popular and great game of basketball? We sure did.  It was time and it took too long to get here.

But we have to ask ourselves: how can the lessons learned today be applied diligently?

Without a symbol to focus on, or a simple answer to fix a problem, can we continue to keep the necessary outrage for the race and discriminative issues we still have in America and all over the world?

Rich white guy saying bad things won’t always be the cut and dry miscreant.  Discriminated-against hero that is Magic Johnson, won’t always be the victim.

We have zoning issues in cities that segregate and create rigid, economical hierarchy.  We have the blurry-lined issue of affirmative action, and the possibility of reverse racism.  We have policing issues, and stereotype issues, and n-word issues and on and on and on….

Today a battle was won.  But taking the loud message today and being strong and patient and focused on these issues as they stop being viral and in our face is the only way to win the war.

Donald Sterling was a start.  Now what do we do from here?


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