A Brief History of Donald Sterling's Alleged Racism

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2014

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Donald Sterling's alleged racist diatribe to girlfriend V. Stiviano has quickly become the thing of awful, despicable legend. If verified, Sterling's reputation as the worst owner in the NBA will be cemented for a long time to come.

TMZ first reported that Sterling accosted his girlfriend for "broadcast[ing]" that she was, "associating with black people."

Per TMZ, Sterling allegedly said, "You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that...and not to bring them to my games."

In all, the rant lasted over nine minutes and included all sorts of bizarre commentary.

We should expect an apology of epic proportions, but we also shouldn't forgive so quickly. This wasn't a lapse in judgement. It wasn't a mistake. It wasn't an oversight. It was the next step in a pattern of behavior that's plagued Sterling for years. 

As Bleacher Report's Dan Levy put it:

It is not news that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is a racist. It is news, however, when Sterling saying ridiculously racist things gets leaked to TMZ, who released a tape that claims to be the Clippers owner arguing with his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, about bringing black people to games with her and posing for pictures with other minorities on Instagram.

Yes, this is still news, news of the worst sort. It's just that we all should have seen it coming. In a day and age where private vices are uncovered so easily, the real Sterling was bound to be put on full display. It was only a matter of time.

And now it may also be just a matter of time before Sterling is banished one way or another. Though it may not be easy to remove him outright, public pressure will demand action. This is no longer just a matter of conducting business the right way. It's a social matter. It should have always been a social matter.

Now our collective sensibilities won't settle for treating it as anything less.

Sterling has a history, and it's finally catching up to him. 

In 2006, "The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday sued Los Angeles Clippers owner and real estate mogul Donald Sterling for housing discrimination, claiming he refused to rent apartments to blacks and families with children," according to The Associated Press (via ESPN).

That was swept under the rug soon enough. Three years later, Sterling, "agreed to pay a record $2.725 million to settle [the] allegations," according to the Los Angeles Times' Scott Glover.

Per Glover, "Had the case gone to trial, an expert would have testified that an analysis of the Sterlings' rental practices in Koreatown revealed that they rented to far fewer African Americans and Hispanics than would be expected, based on demographics."

So that's the first knock against Sterling. We would have heard more about it had he not spent millions to settle. The story gained some traction and should have alerted many to the fact that something was seriously up with this guy. 

And yet, there was a stunning lack of public outcry according to Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel, who wrote: "What the magnitude of this settlement should have done is create a wave of questions and condemnations of Donald Sterling from across the NBA. Instead, most incredibly, there hasn’t been a lick of public discussion." 

The NBA never investigated, and fellow owners remain mum.

Wetzel noted that even as of 2009, Sterling already had a history: "This also isn’t a new issue for Sterling. Four years ago his company agreed to settle a similar 2003 racial discrimination suit for an undisclosed sum—'one of the largest ever obtained in this type of case,' according to the judge—and a reported $5 million in plaintiff legal fees."

But the housing lawsuit was only the beginning, or the beginning that most of us noticed, anyway. In addition to having behaved like a racist, we have past evidence that Sterling has sounded an awful lot like one, too.

Elgin Baylor's accusations against Sterling should have already had us up in arms.
Elgin Baylor's accusations against Sterling should have already had us up in arms.Gus Ruelas

Former general manager Elgin Baylor, who spent 22 years with the organization and is an NBA Hall of Famer, filed a wrongful termination suit in 2010 that included further allegations of racism, per the Los Angeles Times' Lisa Dillman:

In his deposition, Baylor spoke about what he called Sterling's 'plantation mentality,' alleging the owner in the late 1990s rejected a coaching candidate, Jim Brewer, because of race. Baylor quoted Sterling as saying: 'Personally, I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players.'

That kind of thing sounds incomprehensible coming from an educated person in the 21st century. It would be harder to believe were it not for all the surrounding evidence, the context in which we have to evaluate any accusation against Sterling. There are multiple strikes against him by now.

Was Danny Manning also a victim of Sterling's racism?
Was Danny Manning also a victim of Sterling's racism?Allen Einstein/Getty Images

Baylor also alleged that Sterling made racist comments concerning contract negotiations with forward Danny Manning. Dillman recounts the events of the negotiations, according to Baylor's deposition:

When Manning’s agent told Sterling that the offer was unacceptable, Sterling responded by saying it was a lot of money. Said Baylor, in the deposition: “Donald T. said, ‘Well that’s a lot of money for a poor black ... ' -- I think he said kid. For a poor black kid I think. For a poor black something, kid or boy or something. Poor black. Poor black. Danny was upset. So Danny just stormed out. He just stormed out of the place. Where he went, I don’t know. He never came back to the house.”

But it doesn't stop there. Former Clippers player Baron Davis (2008-2011) recently recalled during an interview with the Grantland podcast The Moment with Brian Koppelman how Sterling used to heckle him while he was with the franchise, even to the point of making him lose his love for basketball:

“If we were in layup lines and he wasn’t around, I’d be in a great mood. As soon as he walked into the arena, I’d get like the worst anxiety and I never had anxiety playing. ... I couldn’t do it... I can’t find a way function. Like, not with this man sitting here. Knowing that he hates me.

The full topic is definitely worth listening to, as it paints a fuller picture of Sterling as delusional and menacing. Yet, even though this story has been well-known since 2010, it also never called much attention to Sterling, for whatever reason.

The difference between prior accusations against Sterling and the most recent revelation is that a conversation between Sterling and his girlfriend is far more readily accessible to most viewers and readers. It's not shrouded in complex legal jargon, and there's no questioning whether it's blatant racism versus just being a jerk. Court cases take years to develop, and it's easy for most onlookers to lose track of the story.

Note that this isn't about free speech. Of course, Sterling has a right to say what he wants. But we also have the right to condemn him for it and deem it completely unacceptable. To do anything less would be compromising our own integrity, our collective obligation to call out discrimination in its many forms.

It's a strange world we live in when Sterling was actually set to receive a second lifetime achievement award from the NAACP (per Deadspin's Sean Newell). The NAACP's national office announced Sunday that Sterling would not receive the award any longer. 

And it says a lot about that world that it's taken this long for Sterling to confront a critical mass of public outrage. It probably has more to do with short attention spans than complacency, but we are now focused and seeing clearly.

The Clippers included. The team released an official response via team president Andy Roeser, saying:

We have heard the tape on TMZ. We do not know if it is legitimate or it has been altered. We do know that the woman on the tape—who we believe released it to TMZ—is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family alleging that she embezzled more than $1.8 million, who told Mr. Sterling that she would “get even.”  Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life.

Regardless of the veracity of TMZ's report, you can't help but feel the reaction it's gotten has been a long time coming. More information is sure to surface, but so much information has already come to the fore.

Sterling already has a legacy on his hands—in the worst possible way.


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