Los Angeles Clippers

LA Clippers and Fans Will Travel a Strange New Road Apart from Donald Sterling

FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2010 file photo, Los Angeles Clippers team owner Donald Sterling watches his team play in Los Angeles. A jury has returned a $17.3 million verdict against Sterling in a lawsuit by an actress who lost most of her belongings in a fire at a West Hollywood apartment building he owns. City News Service says the jury awarded $15 million in punitive damages to Robyn Cohen on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2012, in her breach-of-contract and emotional distress lawsuit. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Fred KatzFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2014

The most unexpected, yet guaranteed moment in my basketball life has happened, and nothing seems to make sense anymore.

Los Angeles Clippers fans, rejoice. We're free of Donald Sterling.

It's funny. Every Clippers fan secretly knew the Clips couldn't win a title as long as Sterling was the grand overseer, but no one really liked to talk about it. It was too depressing—part of the inevitability of living in a basketball dictatorship. 

As ClipperBlog's Patrick James wrote, "To me he’d always seemed like spiders in the garage—you wished they weren’t there, but it wasn’t like you could ever really get rid of them."

But really, Sterling was beyond some spiders in the walls. He was a burglar. It was as if your house were constantly being robbed, and there was nothing you could ever do to stop it.

If you don't feel out of danger in your own home, where can you look for safety?

Clippers fans never had a guard dog or a Slomin Shield. So, we've been stuck living in this unfortunate world where we are always checking our backs, waiting for the next time Sterling will rob us of a moment that was supposed to be good.

LOS ANGELES, CA -  APRIL 29:   Susan Wright holds a sign protesting racist comments made by L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling outside Staples Center before a playoff game on April 29, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Clippers owner Donald Sterling was b
Jonathan Alcorn/Getty Images

That's why none of us were all too surprised when racially abhorrent comments from Sterling surfaced on TMZ.com early in the morning of April 26. We knew of Sterling's previous infractions. For some reason, though, of all the crazy Sterling tales we had heard, this was the one that took off, but why?

This wasn't Sterling's worst offense, as Bomani Jones so beautifully chronicled on Dan Le Batard's radio show after the story broke. It wasn't close. 

There were the years of refusing to pay for proper practice facilities for his players. Firing employees over the offseason so he wouldn't have to pay them, and then rehiring them once the season started. Firing Mike Dunleavy and refusing to give him his guaranteed money. 

Clearly, there was so much more, too much to type. And Sterling's image gets worse and worse with all the past allegations of racism.

The Elgin Baylor lawsuit. His creepiest moment (or anyone's creepiest moment), when Baylor alleged Sterling would take women into the Clippers' locker room while the players were showering and tell them to "look at those beautiful black bodies." And worst of all, those housing discrimination suits, which Sterling settled out of court.

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Now, Clippers fans are as happy as the rest of the league to see Sterling go, but still, we're left wondering exactly why this was the transgression that finally got him banned from the NBA for life.

Some may say Sterling's comments to his "assistant," V. Stiviano, had legs because finally, someone caught him on tape. At last, we had tangible proof of Sterling's bigotry. But there may be a different route to go here.

In 2014, we live in a world with a different standard for news, and this story had everything the populous could ask for: sex, scandal, money, coverup, celebrities, Hollywood, mistresses, open marriages, lawsuits and, of course, racism. In a social-media jungle, there was enough meat on this gazelle to feed the whole pride. So, we just kept eating.

And eating.

And eating.

Since TMZ broke this story, some people have placed blame on the media, saying they didn't prioritize Sterling's awful history enough in the past, that somehow, they failed to act as proper watchdogs for the first 34 years of the Clipper owner's reign. But none of these stories were secret before last weekend.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 29:  Los Angeles Clippers hold up signs referencing the Donald Sterling situation before the game with the Golden State Warriors in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

We knew all of this. We just kept letting Sterling rob us over and over again.

I even mentioned some of his disgusting comments from a 2009 deposition in a column I wrote literally two days before the Stiviano story broke. We failed to react in the past. This is on society as a whole, not just one part of it.

Maybe that was because the NBA wouldn't discipline Sterling. Maybe it was because it couldn't. Or maybe it went beyond that. 

The Clippers were a punch line for three decades, and as the most public extension of them, so was Sterling. 

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

When no one takes you seriously, people aren't going to...well, take you seriously. That is, until they do. Until you own a team that's a 57-game winner and a title contender. Until you hit the jackpot of what makes for sexy news in today's culture.

It's easy to have tunnel vision when you're winning. Sports have that effect on fans, on people in general.

Since Chris Paul came to Los Angeles in 2011, the Clippers' expectations have changed. For the first time in its existence, this team was actually supposed to win. And I'll let you in on a little secret: We Clippers fans had no idea how to handle that.

How do you adjust the personality of your fandom from self-loathing loser to predicted winner in the span of one trade? Most of us didn't know what to do, so we just assumed that since this perennially penny-pinching owner was spending money, he must have changed in every other way, as well.

But that was naive. The world doesn't work like that, and certainly bigotry can and should never become overlooked because of a basketball trade. Yet, right at that moment, we threw Sterling into the NBA's spotlight for the first time ever. And finally, in the most predictable upset in basketball history, he's ruined the show.

LOS ANGELES, CA -  APRIL 29:   Dexter McLeod holds a sign protesting racist comments made by L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling outside Staples Center before a playoff game on April 29, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Clippers owner Donald Sterling was
Jonathan Alcorn/Getty Images

In some kind of messed up way, it makes sense that the most bizarre owner in American sports history would finally get ousted for such a strange reason. The Clippers' past is so jumbled in pieces of information that should never belong to any sports franchise, but we've had to deal with every one of them.

The Danny Manning and Shaun Livingston injuries. The Baron Davis era. The Michael Olowokandi pick. 

It seemed like whenever something good happened to the Clippers, a far worse act would follow. And during all this time, Sterling presided over the franchise like a load of bird feculence that hits you on the shoulder right after you put on your nicest suit. 

Every Clippers fan knows this isn't over. Sterling may be in real estate, but he's much closer to one of those sad tightwads on Hoarders than an agent on Million Dollar Listing. He'd rather keep his possessions in the garage forever than sell them, regardless of price. And considering going to court is his version of taking a 6 p.m. bubble bath, Sterling will likely be playing with his rubber ducky far longer than the NBA or any fan would prefer.

But we should expect this. We are, after all, talking about Donald T. Sterling.

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Since this story broke, people have asked me how I could have possibly been a Clippers fan for so many years after knowing all of these inhumane transgressions. But the answer is something that maybe only other Clippers fans can understand.

There's never been anyone who's hated Sterling more than Clippers fans themselves. We never supported him; we never even respected him. But in a way, he rallied us.

Clippers fans have a few screws loose. If they didn't, they'd be rooting for the Lakers. From a basketball standpoint, a historical standpoint, even a likability one, there is never a reason to pick the Clippers over the Lakers. But for some masochistic reason, that's a decision we once made and stubbornly refuse to undo.

We're like the kids in Heavy Weights. We could've called our moms and had them take us home as soon as Ben Stiller took over the camp, but that wasn't an option. We never had a choice. The other campers needed us. 

So, instead of dispersing, we united under a culture of nonsense and waited as patiently as we possibly could for the summer to finish. And finally, even though it felt like it would never end, summer's over. 

 

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com or on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

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