OPINION COLUMNS

The L.A. Clippers, racism and riches

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, May 3, 2014

In case you’ve been hibernating, here’s a brief update on this Big Thing that has unfolded over the last few days involving:

1. the owner of the L.A. Clippers NBA team,
2. his wife,
3. his girlfriend,
4. a secret recording,
5. racism, and
6. a lifetime ban.

The key players are an old guy named Sterling, a young woman named Stiviano, and a super dorky-looking fellow named Silver.

Please note that both Sterling and Stiviano are made-up names, acquired in court by a dude named Tokowitz and a woman named Perez.

Silver’s name is original.

Sterling, 80, has owned the Clippers since 1981. He has a wife, Shelly, who can now do something he can’t – go to Clippers games.

He also has (or had) a girlfriend/employee/trophy, Ms. V. Stiviano, who is 31.

Apparently, she secretly recorded a phone conversation in which he asked her to please stop hanging out with black people, and especially to stop posting photos of herself and black people on the internet.

He said several other things that indicate a plantation-owner mentality – i.e. he’s okay with black people working for him, doing his bidding and making him money, and in that capacity he’s happy to pay them.

He just wouldn’t want to socialize with them.

(This fits perfectly with the idea that his relationship with Stiviano, who is black/Hispanic, is business rather than social.)

Anyhow, she, or someone, gave the recording to TMZ – “celebrity gossip and entertainment news” – and they aired it, causing chaos for Sterling.

Tuesday, he was fined $2.5 million by Adam Silver, the new commissioner of the NBA who takes nerdy-cool to a whole new level. Silver aced his first big test when he banned Sterling from the NBA for the rest of his life.

I’ve heard many kudos for Silver, but also a few words of caution about freedom of speech – even speech that is offensive.

It’s true that this was a private conversation, possibly recorded illegally. It’s also true that Sterling has a right to speak his mind, no matter what the contents of that mind may be.

But the NBA also has a right to protect its franchise, much like McDonald’s would have a right to discipline a franchise owner if he handed out KKK flyers in the drive-through.

I’m not sure the fine or the ban will hold up if Sterling challenges them. I also doubt they’ll bother Sterling much. He can write that $2.5 million check out of petty cash, and I’m betting he has a big-screen TV and a really nice couch where he can watch basketball. If they force him to sell the team, he’ll profit enormously.

But he has certainly become the latest poster child for the kind of racism many thought was in the past – especially in the NBA, where black people not only dominate as players but also coach, manage and own teams.

Racism is far from the only reason Sterling is creepy.

He’s a married man. This Stiviano woman is young enough to be his granddaughter. He’s a rich old guy with a gold chain, an open shirt and a big belly squiring around this young woman and showering her with gifts – including a $1.8 million duplex, a Ferrari, two Bentleys and a Range Rover.

In TMZ-world, that’s apparently standard. Owning people, from the wife to the girlfriend to the athletes to the barely-clad dancers on the sidelines, comes with the territory. Live that way long enough, and they all become objects, just like the cars and the houses.

The sad thing is, Sterling could have done anything he wanted with all that money. He chose this vacuum.

I know some rich people, and I’m happy to observe that they make much better use of their blessings.

They build communities and businesses, help kids go to college and launch careers, give generously to churches, schools and hospitals. They improve the lives of those around them, while faithfully loving their original wives and husbands.

The ones I know even kept their original names.

Mr. Sterling’s racism is sad – but the real tragedy is his fake name, fake fame, fake marriage, fake girlfriend and fake life.

He should come to Texas. He could learn a lot from some people who are really rich.

Buckel is editorial director for the Messenger.

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