Having a Racist Owner is Bad for the NBA’s Brand
By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA—You’d like to think that the sports world would be the one place where the problems of the world could be put on hold in favor of living and dying with the fortunes of our favorite team.
But the stark reality is that sports reflect the good, the bad and the ugly of our society. This past Saturday we definitely saw the bad and the ugly when Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racism infused conversation with his bi-racial girlfriend became the outrage of the social media world.
This incident is the latest version of Sterling’s series of Racist Mixtapes released during his tenure as the owner of the Clippers. From being the defendant in a landmark Fair Housing lawsuit brought by Black and Latino tenants of his housing properties, to his treatment of NBA legend Elgin Baylor, that Sterling’s racism went unchecked by the National Basketball League has me scratching my head a little.
Especially since this is the same NBA that enforced a dress code on its players because former commissioner David Stern felt that Black athletes wearing cornrows, gold chains, and high-priced sweat suits was “off-putting” to some of the millionaire patrons that purchase courtside seats and luxury boxes.
This was also the league that acted swiftly when Ron Artest went into the stands and fought Detroit Pistons fans at the Palace in Auburn Hills in 2004, suspended former NBA star Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf when he refused to stand for the National Anthem in 1996, and has even fined two Los Angeles-based players, —Kobe Bryant of the Lakers and Matt Barnes of the Clippers—for slurs they’ve made on the court.
Yet Sterling was able to be a fairly public bigot without even so much as a slap on the wrist.
Condemnation for player offenses was often meted out quickly under the Stern administration. Anything that brought dishonor to the brand was handled quicker than Olivia Pope could come up with a press strategy.
But Stern isn’t the NBA’s commissioner anymore. Adam Silver is. And this the first assault on the brand on his watch. He’s investigating, but everyone wants to know how he’s ultimately going to handle this.
Silver needs to take a good, long look at Sterling’s history as an owner. He needs to talk to former Villanova coach Rollie Massamino and ask him if Sterling really said, “I wanna know why you think you can coach these niggers…” He needs to talk to Elgin Baylor about Sterling’s vision of “Southern Plantation”-type structure for the Clippers in which a White coach presided over “poor Black boys…”
And he really needs to get a copy of that 2009 Fair Housing suit if for no other reason but it shows a pattern.
And if finds that the smoke we’ve seen is coming from the equivalent of a California brushfire, Silver needs to figure out a way to handle this situation. Does the league take control of the Clippers? Do they try and work out a deal in which he sells the franchise?
The league only needs to look at how another professional sports league, Major League Baseball, handled a similar situation. When late Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott made remarks praising Adolf Hitler and referring to her Black players, Eric Davis and Dave Parker, as her “million-dollar niggers,” the league decided it had had enough of her antics.
Since racism in America’s pastime is just bad for business, Schott was suspended from day-to-day operations with the Reds and was eventually made to sell her stake in the team.
For a league that’s roughly 80 percent African American, it’s inappropriate for an avowed racist to own a franchise. It is bad for the NBA’s brand to be associated who doesn’t want African Americans to come to the arena and watch other African Americans play basketball.
The Black players who have been sanctioned by the NBA for violating some form of league decorum are looking to Silver to handle this situation with the same sense of urgency used against them.
Racists like Sterling have no place in a league that’s been marketing itself as a worldwide brand. If Silver has any business savvy, he needs to understand that talking diversity on one hand while ignoring Sterling and his racism on the other sends the wrong message to fans and players.