The NBA is one of the most popular sports governing bodies in recent memory. Since Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan came onto the scene in the 1980s, NBA exploded into the global phenomenon it is now. As of 2014, the league owes its immense popularity to the superstar talents of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, and Chris Paul to name a few. In addition, the 2014 NBA Finals rematch between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat saw the former capture its fifth NBA championship in franchise history.
Despite having the most exciting playoffs in recent memory, the NBA has been plagued by the the ongoing Donald Sterling affair. Although the Los Angeles Clippers have been sold to Steve Ballmer, Donald Sterling continues to be a thorn at the side of the NBA, threatening the league with a lawsuit in a vain attempt to lift the lifetime ban instituted towards him. If the NBA commissioner Adam Silver and the Board of Governors are looking for the reason they’re in the current mess they’re in now, they only need to look into a mirror.
The leaked taped conversation between Sterling and his mistress Stiviano, in which he didn’t want his mistress associating with Magic Johnson, is but a morsel of how vile this man has been to the United States. Sterling has had an indefensible history of enforcing housing discrimination against Blacks, Latino/as, and Asians. However, even as Sterling sued twice for housing discrimination, one in 2003 and the other in 2006, the NBA board of directors and then-commissioner David Stern did nothing to discipline him. In fact, the NAACP gave Donald Sterling a lifetime award in 2009 and the NBA awarded the owner of the much maligned franchise with by trading him Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets in 2011.
Let’s put this into perspective: the NBA didn’t give a damn about Donald Sterling (and his wife Shelly) enforcing housing discrimination against working class communities of color. Yet the moment he says racist remarks about Magic Johnson, a wealthy 5 time champion Hall of Fame former superstar, the entire world is quick to condemn him. Notice anything wrong with this?
Why didn’t the NBA (owners, players, and otherwise) care about Donald Sterling’s problematic behavior in regards to race and class? He clearly had issues with racial discrimination inside the NBA. In addition, past Clipper players have characterized him as having a mentality similar to a 19th century White slave master. Could it have been that Sterling turned a previously unprofitable Clipper franchise in San Diego into another valuable team in LA? Could it have been his relationship with Dr. Jerry Buss, whom he helped purchase the most storied franchise in LA? Could it have been his close relationship with David Stern?
Here’s my answer: the majority of the NBA did not care about Sterling’s behavior because these wealthy individuals (White, Black, or otherwise) cannot, or will not, empathize with the plight of poor/working class people of color. If you need a poignant example of this contempt of poor people, you need to look no further then remarks made by NBA legend and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan.
The reaction to Sterling’s remarks are more telling about the NBA and society at large. On one hand, the outraged majority claimed that racism had no place in the league and that the NBA should be more “colorblind.” On the other hand, his wealthy defenders such as Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban, defended his right to privacy while conveniently ignoring the aforementioned housing discrimination practices. Both sides clearly exhibit very little care or concern over the rights of the working class communities of color Sterling trotted on for over 30 years. Instead, they were (and still are) more concerned over how damaging Sterling’s interpersonal racist attitudes may be to the brand of the NBA and the value of the Clippers franchise (which sold for over $2 billion).
As a result of this whole debacle, Donald Sterling, like the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis before him, has been scapegoated by the League and society as the quintessential racist bad guy. He is, in our cultural imagination, a fossil from a time period where White men could openly call someone a “nigger” or a “sambo” with absolute impunity. His plantation slave master-like behavior is distasteful for more a “politically correct” and “morally enlightened” time period of the 21st century. However, Sterling is not a relic of yersteryear, but a member of a dominant class of wealthy White men who continue to exploit people of color whilst enacting structural oppression against them.
The NBA players, coaches, personnel, owners, administrators, and fans, like most of society, care little about the reality of structural oppression against marginalized communities. Them, like us, seem to want to ignore the conflicts linked to structural racism. Instead, they intend to lull us to into a deep dream where we see Blake Griffin dunking instead of the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people. A dream where we see a LeBron crossover (or cramp) instead of police brutality against people of color. A dream where we see NBA commercials of how we are one instead of how we are truly divided.
If we don’t wake up from this dream of postracial America, we are bound to be lost within the sea of ignorance associated with this false narrative of our nation. After all, the first and only reality about postracial America is that it does not exist. While we continue to hear the phrase, “Donald Sterling has no place in the NBA,” let us remember who gave him the table in the first place.