The NBA's all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has plenty of clout, the kind that comes with six MVPs and six championships. After the racist comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling hijacked headlines during Round 1 of the NBA playoffs, and led to his subsequent lifetime ban from the league, Abdul-Jabbar took a substantially different stance on the controversy.
In an op-ed for Time magazine, the longtime Los Angeles Lakers center, who also worked with the Clippers in 2000 as an assistant coach, wrote that while he completely supports Sterling's lifetime ban, the person who recorded the conversation should also receive severe punishment.
As Abdul-Jabbar phrased it, "I hope whoever made this illegal tape is sent to prison." He hears the woman as "cajoling" Sterling. Moreover, she "was like a sexy nanny playing 'pin the fried chicken on the Sambo.' She blindfolded him and spun him around until he was just blathering all sorts of incoherent racist sound bites that had the news media peeing themselves with glee."
Ostensibly, the person who made the recording is the same person on the other end of the conversation with Sterling, his then-girlfriend identified as V. Stiviano. As reported by the Los Angeles Times' Joseph Serna, Stiviano's attorney claimed she did not release the tape, stating, "My client is devastated that this got out...Someone released it for money."
Regardless of who leaked the recording—which was initially reported by TMZ before Deadspin released a longer version of the tape the next day—it is almost certainly a crime if the conversation took place in California.
As noted by Mike Francis of The Oregonian: "California, where [Sterling] lives, is a two-party consent state, which means that recording is permitted only when both parties are aware it's taking place."
Abdul-Jabbar argues that the racist comments being on an illegal recording also deserves serious concern: "Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way?"
Abdul-Jabbar boycotted the 1968 Olympics, an action he wrote about in a 2008 op-ed for the Los Angeles Times prior to the 2008 Beijing Games. In 1968, Abdul-Jabbar was known as Lew Alcindor, and he chose to protest the treatment of African-Americans in the United States.
As an athlete hardly unfamiliar with political protest and public engagement, his stance on the Sterling imbroglio comes as somewhat of a surprise. Even if Sterling suffers from "IPMS (Irritable Plantation Master Syndrome)," as Kareem put it, that does not make it legal to make such a tape.
Certainly, the entire exchange does not seem aboveboard, but it nevertheless exposed Sterling to the world as a virulent racist. However, this was a known fact. As Adbul-Jabbar points out: "If we’re all going to be outraged, let’s be outraged that we weren’t more outraged when his racism was first evident."
Should the person who made the recording be sent to jail?
Sterling had already made two large settlements in housing discrimination suits and had a workplace discrimination suit filed against him by NBA Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor. Discerning individuals did not need the possibly illegal recording to infer that Sterling was a bigot.
The key takeaway from Kareem's unique take on the matter is that Sterling should not be the only figure of scorn in the situation.
We should also be "outraged" that one person recorded a private conversation, likely in violation of California law. And we should prepare to be outraged when the person who actually leaked the conversation to the media looks to cash in even further with tell-all interviews before eventually landing in the dim spotlight of reality TV.
If this situation's Linda Tripp does indeed face prison time, perhaps we will learn more about the murky background of the damning tape, namely the motive for recording it and the person who leaked it.
Until then, the Clippers will try to survive during the postseason while celebrities and billionaires clamor to purchase the team.