Handing the death penalty to 80-year-old Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling April 29, 52-year-old newly minted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver didn't pull any punches for Sterling’s offensive racist rant recorded secretly my his 31-year-old lady-friend V. Stiviano. When Stiviano’s recording found its way to Hollywood gossip site TMZ April 26, it went instantly viral, exposing what looks like Sterling’s blatant racism. Telling Stiviano not to associate and bring blacks to Clippers games created a racial tornado of epic proportions, sweeping away the sports-and-celebrity empire built by the self-made Los Angeles billionaire. Watching Silver denounce Sterling satisfied the angry mob that chased Sterling with torches-and-pitchforks out of town. Not one journalist asked anything about Sterling’s mental status that compelled him to act so irrationally destroying his career.
Sterling’s racist rant recorded secretly and exposed to the world demonstrated the kind of erratic stupidity that usually goes with age-related cognitive decline, sometimes seen as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Once Sterling’s evil genie was out of the bottle, no one looked for any sympathy, tar-and-feathering the famous Beverly Hills resident’s multiple humanitarian-of-the-year awards. From his humble beginnings in East LA's Boyle Heights, Sterling defied all odds, graduating Cal State LA and South Western College of Law to join LA’s power elite. His money came from shrewd residential real estate investing, not casinos, drugs or other vices. Before denounced and evicted from the NBA by Silver, Sterling was due to receive the NAACP’s a lifetime achievement award. His spectacular fall from grace from NBA owner to a disgraced racist scoundrel dominates today’s headlines.
Watching the bloodlust and high-fives from practically everyone watching Silver give thumbs down on Sterling’s NBA life resembled the Roman Arena depicted in the 2000 epic film “Gladiator” by Oscar-winning director Ridley Scott. Starring Russell Crowe as the slave Maximus, he’s told before entering the Roman arena into battle by slave owner Proximo: “The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the senate but the sand of the Colosseum." While Sterling wasn’t present, the audience convulsed in euphoria over Silver’s death penalty for his racist rant. “The hateful opinions voiced by that man [on the tape] are those of Donald Sterling,” said Silver, banning Sterling for life from the NBA. News reports sought any possible historical events of Sterling’s life to trash him as a racist, including a no-fault $2.7 million settlement for violations of federal fair housing laws.
Banning Sterling from the NBA for life and fining him the maximum of $2.5 million, Silver offered the angry mob everything short of putting the octogenarian before a firing squad. Despite all the civil rights gains in U.S. history, it’s long history of slavery and racism still percolated beneath the surface ready to erupt on provocation. Sterling’s irrational statements to his 30-something lady-friend demonstrate a shell of the once fully-in-charge businessman that won humanitarian-of-the-year honors from various groups. Sterling’s lifetime achievements suddenly turned to rubbish all from his offensive racist remarks. “I fully expect to get the support I need from the other NBA owners to remove him,” said Silver, answering questions of how he’ll eventually force Sterling to sell his NBA franchise. Silver admitted that Sterling had little to say other than admitting the voice was his on the tape.
Sterling’s pathetic response suggests the very real possibility that he’s not playing with a full deck, perhaps suffering from cognitive impairments like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Sterling’s conversation secretly recorded by V. Stivinio sounds incoherent. “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?,” asked Sterling. If that weren’t enough, “You can sleep with them. 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,” said Sterling, making no sense when African Americans and other minorities routinely attend Clippers games. Showing just how far he went over the deep end, “I support them and give them food and clothes and care and houses . . .,” Sterling told Stiviano, confusing lavish gifts for his lady-friends from salaries paid to his players or coaches.
Faced with a strike by NBA players during the playoffs, Silver had no choice but to make an example out of Sterling for his racist rant. It’s clear that he hit a raw nerve in players, coaches and fans, not used to the ugly words, no doubt occurring in more places than only Clippers games. “We applaud the firm punishment handed out today my NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and appreciate the swiftness with which the NBA conducted the investigation,” said San Francisco Warriors owner Joe Lacob in a prepared statement. “Similarly, we anticipate that the NBA Board of Governors will act promptly to put this chapter behind us,” referring to forcing Sterling to sell his franchise. Whether any court agrees that Sterling got due process or deserved the punishment, the NBA reserves the right to terminate franchise agreements when an owner’s behavior harms the NBA brand and debases the sport.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’d editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.