Sunday, May 4, 2014

My Name's Sterling

The Donald Sterling story is a perfect microcosm of everything American right now. I just can’t figure out exactly why or how. Let’s recap the week that was. First a tape of eighty-year-old Donald Sterling, the owner of the NBA’s LA Clippers, allegedly questioning a woman named V. Stiviano, his thirty-year-old girlfriend/personal assistant, regarding her affiliation with black people, came across the transom, and all hell broke loose. Listen here:

Keep in mind Mr. Sterling supposedly said these words behind closed door, having no knowledge he was being wiretapped. He did not give a public speech in Harvard square or spout this nonsense on Twitter. He dealt with it in private, or so he thought. Ms. Stiviano, a self-described poet-writer-artist-future President, sold the recording to TMZ for ten bucks and five minutes of fame (she can deny that part all she wants), and TMZ shamefully ran it for the world to hear.

Mr. Sterling was promptly labeled a “disgraced racist” then abruptly kicked out of the NBA for life, and everyone from Barack Obama to Magic Johnson to Anderson Cooper feigned disgust for the oh-so-outraged masses. If you were sincerely offended by what Mr. Sterling allegedly said--not just the idea of it--I must compliment you for living an unencumbered life. I can promise that people in Tornado Valley and those with friends and family in Afghanistan certainly weren’t moved an inch by this week of cartoonish witch hunting. Now Ms. Stiviano is making the media rounds and Mr. Sterling has cancer.

During this same week, former NBA great and current league analyst Shaquille O’Neal, went on Instagram and publically poked fun at a mentally-disabled fan, and the next night he was back on TNT doing halftime shows with Charles Barkley. Read here: During this same week, former NBA player and current NY Knicks executive Larry Johnson, publically proposed the idea of the NBA starting an all-black league, and nobody said a thing. Read here: During this same week, former NBA legend and current ABC analyst Magic Johnson, publically danced on the professional grave of resigning LA Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni, but we were too busy listening to his bafoonish speeches about Donald Sterling to care about his childish Twitter rants. Read here:

Sterling’s team the LA Clippers are presently better than they’ve ever been, and are into round 2 of the playoffs for the first time . . . ever. How can head coach Doc Rivers, an African-American who Mr. Sterling hired and made the highest-paid skipper in the sport, sit at a media podium and talk healing and anger and betrayal? Doc, you’re black. Sterling pays you $7 million a year. Who cares what he says behind closed door? Talk to the people in Tornado Valley about healing and outrage. If you’re so outraged, Mr. Rivers, give the man his money back and go coach the dreadful Lakers. And I’d say the same to the Clippers’ star player, Chris Paul, who’s beaten the fake-outrage drum all week. With all apologizes to Drew Brees, Chris Paul’s the biggest phony in pro sports. Take your 100 million from Sterling and play ball or give it back and take a real stance. I guarantee Donald Sterling’s done more for the black community than 90% of white Americans AND 90% of black Americans. The NAACP agrees, and was set to give him a second humanitarian award, then of course recanted under societal pressure.

The world of basketball demanded swift action in regards to Sterling, and they got it. Newly-minted NBA commissioner Adam Silver used an illegal recording of Sterling in his private home and a whole heap of fake outrage to throw this longest-tenured owner out, and then he was applauded for it. I know freedom of speech is a punchline now, but regardless of what he said, this seems an extreme response to pillow talk caught on tape. The only thing missing was a mob wielding pitch forks and a burning stake. Of course they demanded “swift action,” because five minutes from now when the fervor’s gone, the world will realize what Sterling did wasn’t a hanging offense in the grand scheme.

Imagine if everything you said behind closed doors was recorded and aired out to TMZ. Think hard about that before you sign up for mob-mentality day at the water cooler. If being fake-offended makes you feel better, that’s fine, but I bet you didn’t even listen to the tape. Why bother, right? You take your position on this issue behind Magic Johnson and Stephen A. Smith.

The media has pumped this non-story to a total soap opera. When I turned on ESPN radio Monday morning, the unlistenable Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg were talking in the hushed tones of a post-presidential assassination. I thought Sterling was John Wilkes Booth. Then I listened and listened and began to wonder why this was even being reported. CNN led all week with Sterling, trumping the tornados that have decimated this country, people who are truly hurting and need to heal. Maybe this is why racism continues to be such a game-changing deal. If Sterling had been put on the backburner and quietly due-processed out of basketball, fine by me. But why did this need to degenerate into a week of soap-boxing and grandstanding? The media fuels people, and ta-da, racism lives another day. And Barbara Walters are you kidding me? You sat down with Ms. Stiviano, this gold digger in gold digger’s clothes, and gave her a primetime spot on ABC? Watch here: Ms. Walters, you’ve volleyed with presidents and dignitaries and Justin Timberlakes. V. Stiviano should be arrested, not given the glow of the five-minute spotlight. The modern media is a two-dollar floozy. But we knew that already.

I’m left with no concrete takeaway on Donald Sterling except that it’s too bad people aren’t talking about a historically-exciting NBA playoffs. Maybe I don’t get it, because I don’t see racism extrapolated as a modern necessity, and perhaps I’m wrong about that. I see starvation and abuse and death and natural disaster as the issues that should be dealt with. Call me crazy but I imagine America as a place where a black man could one day be President and people with no talent can become rich and famous. I don’t care what Donald Sterling, who I’ll never meet, says in his bedroom, and I certainly don’t think some fame-chasing caricature should be given a headline off it.

Sterling should sue everything and everyone that isn’t nailed down, using the long-forgotten First Amendment as defense. But that won’t happen. He’s got cancer now, in more ways than one, and when he’s gone, this past week is what he’ll be remembered for, and V. Stiviano will fake-cry for him on her VH1 reality show. And why is that a problem? Well . . . in the words of John Proctor: “Because it is my name!”

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Brian Huba

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