(originally published elsewhere)
Donald Sterling is essentially gone from the Clippers. His name is still above the door, and will be until such time as the team’s ownership is prized away from him. But no one is forced to look at that plaque any more.
In a tumultuous three days, Sterling and his opinions went from established but ignored truth to a disavowed relic determined to be forgotten, and became triumphant figures of success in the eternal battle against bigotry that any high profile victory revels in. The “if we can’t see it, it’s not there” approach the vast majority had taken towards Sterling hitherto was dispensed with, Adam Silver introduced himself, and that’s all she wrote. Donald Sterling, for all intents and purposes, is gone.
There exist many coexisting and conflicting narrative viewpoints about this affair. Of course there is. This is the biggest news in the NBA for a long time, the biggest news in sports, and, moreover, completely out of the blue.
Certainly, we did not only just learn that Donald Sterling was capable of horrifically bigoted thoughts, racist and sexist, a manipulator of women and nauseatingly proud owner of ludicrously outdated racist ideas that society is permanently trying to prove it has moved on from. We did not, however, expect to be revisiting them again. Therein lies the shock factor, and therein lies the reason for this action, swift and emphatic, for what was ultimately a private and mostly toothless conversation that is not even nearly the worst thing Sterling is known to have done. Sterling was a known bigot; the major news here was that something was finally done about it. The fact that he was absolved for prior conduct, while a fair criticism, is ultimately something that will be chosen to be overlooked.
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Many of these narratives are celebratory, because of course they are. Many are celebratory with a hint of caution – a long legal battle will now commence, and it won’t be pretty. Some point out the fact that, if Sterling is now forced to sell, he is merely transitioning from being an exceedingly asset-rich bigot to an exceedingly cash-rich bigot, no real punishment at all, especially to one who seems to be immune to the shame and loathing that has accompanied the affair. Some seek to apportion blame to those who let the situation reach this point, or those Clippers employees (executive and playing staff) who ought have known who they were signing up with. Some point out the ignonimity of Sterling being penalised to this extent for what were intended to be private words seeking to control one Instagram account, ultimately toothless and meaningless acts when viewed against Sterling’s greater actions and the size of racism in the world at large. Some talk about how, despite what is ostensibly an enormous decision that reverberates throughout all sport, the momentous decision Adam Silver took was ultimately a rather easy one in light of the permissiveness of the constitution and the fully fledged support of all other honours.
And so we could go on. There are countless other directions and positions being taken, and most of them are extremely valid. (Although the “what about Jay-Z’s necklace?” crowd are not helping anyone.)
The prevalence of so many different takes can be attributed to the complexity of the circumstances, the severity of the punishment, and the uniqueness of the entire affair. Indeed, it is this latter one that has made the whole exercise such a useful if ugly one. The whole affair raises so many issues and touches upon so many contentious or misunderstood points, from privacy laws to player boycotts, all of which we scrambled to understand and justify. The sheer amount of information unearthed by this process is something from which we must benefit. We must all learn from what has transpired here, in more ways than just the obvious “we are one” message. And thanks to the actors in this story, we can. There is so much to digest.
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Thanks to Bomani Jones, who did a remarkable job of turning a twelve year fight into a twelve minute homily, we learnt a vital perspective on the socio-economic bigotry this problem does not address, one all too easily overlooked in the joyous aftermath of Sterling’s fall.
Thanks to the NBA, who released its constitution and by-laws into the public domain prompted by this ordeal, those of us intrigued by the NBA’s nuances will now learn of the many defining rules and regulations we previously had to guess at.
Thanks to Adam Silver’s podium performance, we learnt that the maximum fine of $2.5 million is itself rather toothless to people as rich as this, yet other provisions have real bite. In the process of this performance, we learnt about Silver and what he is capable of – his nervous mannerisms in appearances to date, particularly his earliest draft night airings, belie what we now see as the determination of a man unafraid to undertake whatever conclusion the due process leads him towards.
Thanks to Michael McCann and others, we learnt about the legal ramifications behind the process, both the justifications for what has happened so far and the possible remedies and recourses Sterling may wish to pursue.
Thanks to Dave D’Alessandro, we are taught things that we probably should have known better about the other owners, things we should have known about whenever we assumed the moral high ground before, and things we definitely must know about now.
Thanks to the countless folk who did not get it, we learn about what the First Amendment actually is.
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Personally, I relearnt why I started training to be a lawyer (I want to understand these things better) and also why I gave up trying (I couldn’t).
And thanks to the whole affair, all of us learnt that people power can ultimately determine economic power.
It has been fascinating. Unpleasant things often are. Donald Sterling finally brought about his demise, and as ugly as things have been and will continue to be, there is good beyond the obvious to be found here. We owed it to the litany of past oversights and selective memories to learn.