The unfortunate moss

As you might've heard, I've been making a vague attempt to busy myself with vacation at its fullest, which is why my posts have reeked of casual these last two weeks. But when a man gets an email from Golden State of Mind announcing an all-bloggers-on-deck call to arms about L'Affaire du Sterling, it's on. I tried to go at this the day it hit, but, well, I didn't feel like taking the time to give it my all. Now I'm worrying about sneaking my gallons of hair gel past security, so it seems like the moment is nigh.

The always-excellent Bomani Jones fired the shot most of us had been wondered toward: namely, why doesn't the media count its uproar over this one? I could not be in more agreement with his piece, even if he didn't answer an email I wrote him approximately one year ago to the day. To me, though, the more verbally enriching den of nettles is the implications of this for the players on the newly-buoyant Clip Joint. As I remember, it was a frank one-on-one between Odom and Sterling that led to Lamar's being allowed to move on to Miami; at very least, this seemed at the time to indicate some degree of sympathy for the player's situation, or at least his humanity. Not trying to claim that The Donald is some sort of player's owner, but this did strike me as an uncessarily decent gesture—and certainly one at odds with any attempt to cast Sterling as Schott's Revenge.

Yet you can't help but dwell a minute on the position this puts Brand, Cassell, Mobley, Maggette, and the rest of the African-American Clippers in. Here's an organization that has suddenly sprung to life, largely through the willingness of crap owner to finally heed the cause of winning. Mark Cuban notoriously observed that a losing baseball team was a more profitable business venture than a winning win; even if the situaton is slightly different for basketball, Sterling clearly for years felt that cheapskating by was the optimal way to manage a franchise. Most people point to this season as when his internal winds began to shift, but I'll insist it was that sit-down with Odom. Maybe he realized that it did no one no good to lock up talent who wanted to move on, or maybe Lamar actually impressed upon him the emotional toll of life in Clipperdom and/or the man behind the athlete. In either case, Sterling seemed to understand that there was more to the NBA than the bottom line.

Now, I recognize that NBA players are not prospective tenants, and it's perfectly possible that one could expand his understanding of major league sports without any change in his societal views. But presumably this incarnation of the Clippers views their owner in a decidedly different light. He's no longer the enemy in their quest for respect around the Association. Instead, he's an asset, an ally, a figure upstairs who is willing to do what it takes to win. And in this sense, he's on their side. Or at least was.

This is not only a PR disaster. In a way few things could, it really forces these guys to choose between being Clippers and being African-Americans. Sterling's housing practices in no way affect his attitude toward his team, apparently; as stated earlier, if anything one could read this recent bout of competence as an increased sensitivity toward his players' situations. But just when his relationship with his team qua owner was defrosting, along comes a revelation sure to sour some of his employees toward him. If Sterling had a positive track record, perhaps it would be possible to withhold judgment. But given his history of shit conduct, it's hard to not assume the worse. That this is seeing the light of day as the team moves in the right direction once and for all lays bare the distinction between the cause of black NBA'ers and a plea for worldwide racial equality.

FreeDarko spends an endless amount of time attempting to racialize and politicize the game. We rarely, if ever, expect players to act in accordance with the imperatives we see all around the Association. Jermaine O'Neal is one of the few stars who ever speaks up in any definite way; yes, there was the dress code fiasco, but a lot of that was just posturing. Although I'm as big a fan of Artest and Stephen Jackson as the next man, I'm not about to take two week's worth of cliche-spouting as any real awareness of the league's deeper connotations. The age limit prompted far more meaningful, less contrived comments, as well as one of the all-time epic Jim Brown interventions. What's happening on the other side of the Staples Center tracks would seem to be an obvious instance in which the NBA could make a difference; just as their Katrina charity put that of the more "American" leagues to shame, the totally YGB Association is in the ideal position to make an issue of Sterling. And I can't help but suspect that those who have heard about it have some feelings on the subject.

Unfortunately, those on the Clippers simply don't have this luxury, and it's not clear they would want it. Not to get all DuBoisian, but as professional athletes they are in a borderline perfect situation. As African-Americans, however, they're suddenly affiliated with something rank and sinister. Their fans are not particularly inclined to rock the boat these days, since most sports fans are aware of athletes, not socio-culturally constituted public figures. When things are going well, no one wants to talk about race, especially if it can be kept out of the basketball conversation entirely. And in this case, it would actively fly in the face of Sterling's—and his team's—basketball trajectory. For Brand or Magette, to name the two longest-tenured Clips, to say something here would be a profoundly unpopular decision with any number of parties; if anyone else in the league were to speak out, it practically forces them to have an opinion, if not an authoritative one. While I like to imagine that this scenario would still present some clear-cut right and wrong, I'm not sure it's fair for anyone else to hold them accountable. You can wish high-profile athletes would lead the way more often, but telling them to do so often deconstructs the reasons we look to them in the first place.


At 8/13/2006 2:47 PM, Blogger atma brother #1 said...

Thank you Bethlehem Shoals. Props on your in-depth coverage of what should be front page news.


At 8/13/2006 9:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Donald being a sleezy landlord isn't exactly news but I find it interesting that people see there's an actual contradiction between the way Donald chooses his players and the way he chooses his tenants. Since when has Donald Sterling ever treated his businesses, pro sports or otherwise, as anything but an investment? And for people that buy into the "opening his pocketbook" crap should take a little closer look at his transactions. He makes ALL of his decisions as a businessman and that's probably how the players will see it.

At 8/13/2006 10:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Calvin Murphy was accused of child molestation by 5 of his children and lost his job as a Houston Rockets broadcaster. Unfortunately, this was the only part of the story that made the news. He was ACQUITTED, but no coverage. An accusation is not a conviction. Was Calvin Murphy a womanizer? Yep. He had a lot of irresponsible unprotected sex with a lot of women and fathered 14 children. That sort of sexual "misconduct" should not have been held against him during his trial and wasn't.

So your statement "If Sterling had a positive track record, perhaps it would be possible to withhold judgment. But given his history of shit conduct, it's hard to not assume the worse," is just plain wrong

What would you say to Calvin Murphy then? Treating everything like a business/being a cheapskate is not tantamount to being racist. If the ACCUSATIONS are prove true, then I would have no problem condemning him, but why shouldn't you have an open mind?

At 8/13/2006 10:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Assuming the worst of people is a terrible philosophy and it contributes nothing to the solution of these problems.

Switching gears, The Clippers made a big profit even when he was being a cheapskate. People were still willing to show up when the team was shit, so why bother to build?

At 8/13/2006 11:29 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i am now getting these sent directly to my email, and am taking them even more personally than usual. so expect the ultimate in saltiness, at least in the short-term.

sam: i am sitting next to an extremely wise, experienced lawyer. he confirms what my feeble and untrained legal mind had thus far merely speculated: that this sort of case is not brought lightly, i.e. it's a huge fucking deal and requires a tremendous amount of evidence, years in the making, etc. as opposed to arresting the town drunk for a burglary, or heeding a witness's accusation.

that said, it might not be so prudent to liken this to sterling's "shitty track record" as an owner. what i guess i was going for was that, were he a tremendously magnaninmous, beloved, and unimpeachably positive owner, it would be far more difficult to assume the worst. since, however, he has a long history of being a stingy, curmudgeonely ass, why not assume he turned aside minorities in the interest of "business?"

and saying that this is "just business" is ridiculous. yes, it may be sound business to deny certain people their voting rights, but does that make it excusable? his motivations might not be classic racism, but not seeing that he SHOULDN'T do this would still probably count as racism in most people's book.

and dawg, read the post if you're going to get so angry. the reason that it's impressive he spent some money, and seems to indicate some change in perspective.


At 8/13/2006 11:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With housing discrimination cases the government almost always sends in many people undercover (of both the discriminated group and the non discrimintaed group) to verify complaints that have been made. The idea that the Govt filed a case based only on one or two people's complaints is wishful thinking.

At 8/14/2006 1:33 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

wait, i fucked up the next to last sentence. it should've read:

the reason it's so impressive that he spent some money, and why i think it's indicative of a change in perspective, is that he was making money with a losing team.

At 8/14/2006 1:42 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

okay, this isn't exactly the time or the place for this news, but:


At 8/14/2006 3:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not making a moral justification either way for how Sterling treats his players and his tenants but it's clear that any "change in perspective" of his is bullshit. Donald is spending more money because there's the distinct possibility of making more money. Lakers are stuck in mediocrity, Sterling sees an opportunity to own the best basketball team in the biggest market in the country and he makes a sound investment. That's just Donald being Donald.


At 8/14/2006 10:17 AM, Blogger Gentlewhoadie Apt One said...

I feel very compelled to blog about this myself, but right now I am at work, where I prepare low income housing tax credit and loan applications for non-profit developers in Philly. The irony of writing anything more than this comment on company time would be a little too much.

At 8/14/2006 11:06 AM, Blogger ForEvers Burns said...

Shoals, thanks for bringing this to our attention and for offering your insight on the matter. Like many of the posts I enjoy most on this site, I think there are a multitude of possibilities to discuss.

Personally, I’m curious about the effect that class may have on players’ responses. According to the Page 2 article, the properties in question are in high-rent areas and would cater to more middle and upper class families and individuals (though I know nothing of LA real estate and could be totally misinterpreting the situation).

I’ve always felt that one of the reasons so few nba players speak out openly against discrimination and other injustices concerning poor black people in America is because of the tremendous social stigma of poverty in poor black communities (though it’s certainly not unique to black culture). In my mind, this stigma helps explain behaviors like families on food stamps being so willing to spend $150 dollars on shoes for their children every few months; families need to show themselves and others that they’re indeed not poor, as the shoes serve as a sort of litmus test for poverty. The stigma itself is not on poverty, but the perception of poverty.

It’s far more complicated than this, but I think one reason why there appears to be a reluctance among black nba players, many of whom grew up poor, to openly advocate for impoverished black people is because by doing so, they fear identifying themselves with a group that was so denigrated and stigmatized by their own culture. There are a ton of other reasons that those who recently have come into wealth (regardless of race or culture) obscure their more modest origins (and many examples of a fear of alienating more established members of the newly entered socioeconomic class).

Basically, this issue is tremendously complicated, and those two garbled paragraphs do very little to elucidate anything. However, the type of discrimination with which we may be dealing is not wealthy white discriminating against poor black, but wealthy white discriminating against wealthy black.

In speaking out against Sterling, players wouldn’t need to represent a group to which they may feel like they don’t belong or want to associate with, they’d be representing themselves and their families. While some players like the previously mentioned O’Neil might have spoken on the issue regardless of the economic status of the minorities affected, I think many other players might be moved to speak because Sterling is allegedly discriminating against THEM. As Shoals indicated, this could be cataclysmic for the Clippers, with outspoken players potentially openly pressuring others into not signing with Sterling. While I think it’s too early to condemn Sterling, that this isn’t bigger news is mind boggling to me.

At 8/14/2006 12:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My hope is that some player sees this as an opportunity.

jordan's true legacy was a league where stars are corporate ambassadors instead of public figures. today stars craft an image that is marketable before they play their first game (see james, lebron). But outspokenness should not be considered a liability. the ones we remember are those who used their position to engage critically with the national culture, the ones that transformed from athletes into social forces unto themselves -- barkley, jim brown, and perhaps the original, bill russell.

will this nba generation have a voice? j o'neal? elton brand?

wv - udmsmpg - udrih's miata gets six miles per gallon

At 8/14/2006 12:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the "innocent-until-proven-guilty" crowd: If you don't want to read the whole Bomani Jones article, at least check this paragraph:

Sterling was sued for housing discrimination by 19 plaintiffs in 2003, according to The Associated Press. In this case, Sterling was accused of trying to drive blacks and Latinos out of buildings he owned in Koreatown. In November, Sterling was ordered to pay a massive settlement in that case. Terms were not disclosed, but the presiding judge said this was "one of the largest" settlements ever in this sort of matter. The tip of the iceberg: Sterling had to play $5 million just for the plaintiffs' attorney fees.

In other words, the guy has already lost a housing discrimination case. It doesn't prove him guilty this time, but in terms of evaluating his moral character, that's all I need to know.

At 8/14/2006 2:44 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

pardon my cutting in on a serious discussion, but AgentZero is out for the World Championships. Stained knee.

At 8/14/2006 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely totally agree that this is a huge fucking deal, but if it's such a big deal, why would the government merely alllow him to settle his last case? Why wouldn't they order him to never be involved in the real estate business again or something like that? That would be my punishment, IF HE WAS CONVICTED. Remember, this was a LAWSUIT, not a criminal case. He has never been charged with a crime.

The fact that the government allowed him to settle says to me that their case wasn't that strong but that there was still a tacit understanding between the parties that some sort of wrongdoing occurred, and in fact the government probably encouraged him to settle. That's not justice, that's bullshit, and is indicative of absolutely nothing.

And what about Calvin Murphy? I didn't see anything about him in your post or response. Using your logic, if he had lots and lots of sex with lots and lots of women, why not assume that age would just be a number and incest would mean nothing and that he would just want to have lots of sex with whoever was around, no matter who they were.

I read the whole post, and I understand your point, I was just saying that owning is not necessarily about winning, it's about making money. He made tons of money, now he is spending more money for the distinct chance that he might make even more.

And you still think he discriminated? Well, was the case actually brought against Donald Sterling himself or a real estate company he runs? This is why the government has to sue, as opposed to bringing charges.


And for the record, I am not "so angry." I enjoy all of your writings including this one, but I don't like it when everyone piles on just because they don't like a guy. Barry Bonds has gotten far more scorn for his steroid use than Mark McGwire has, because he doesn't suck up to the opinion-makers in the media. Donald Sterling is getting heaps of scorn put on him because he recognized that he could still make a profit with the Clippers without winning any games.

At 8/14/2006 4:01 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

sam - don't know how much knowledge of the law you have, but i know a little bit (peep the esq.), and the majority of cases get settled out of court. it's just more efficient that way. i'd say in most cases, it's actually more just than a decision from a court. in sterling's case, that fact that he settled for such a large amount indicates he did something wrong.

also, your calvin murphy analogy is very, very weak. the leap from:

murphy had a lot of consensual sex with adult women to whom he was not related


murphy molested his own children

is pretty fucking huge. and not at all similar to:

sterling more than likely discriminated against minorities (he paid a big settlement when charges were brought against him before)

so it's likely that if a serious charge is being brought against him again, there is some merit to it.

At 8/14/2006 4:25 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i'm in buses and airplanes today, which is why i haven't said anything till now. i did, however, encounter a seeds of peace employee (non-NBA) at the portland greyhound station who seemed utterly uninterested in discussing the program. he was israeli, for the record.

sam, sorry i jumped on you there. i told you, these going straight to my emai makes me that much more defensive.

and i do have to admit that when i said "shit track record," i was referring as much to his bad rep as an owner as his past problems in the housing discrimination dept. which made sense in the context of my argument, but not so much in this current discussion.

burns: the fact that i didn't mention the class aspect of this is absolutely unforgivable. i'm not sure if the social class of those discriminated against makes it easier or harder for players to stand up; after all, the poor may be stigmatized, but supporting their right to a better life is hardly a radical stance. pointing out that minorities can face adversity even after they've "made it" is one of those uncomfortable truths no one really wants to admit. might even be more controversial for a player than identifying with the "ghetto folk"

At 8/14/2006 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couple of responses to Sam.

You asks, "if it's such a big deal, why would the government merely allow him to settle his last case?" First, I don't think the government was at all involved in that case -- I believe it was brought by 19 private plaintiffs. So the government would have no authority to "allow him to settle" that case. Second, as Brown Recluse points out, settlement is extremely common and not indicative of a weak case. If both parties have a similar sense of the likely outcome of a trial, they are both much better off settling to avoid the additional legal costs of going through a trial. The vast, vast, vast majority of civil cases settle.

At 8/14/2006 7:12 PM, Blogger d.d. tinzeroes said...

In the interest of understanding what's at issue, you can read the Dept. of Justice's Complaint against Donald Sterling, et al., here. I'm just a stickler for primary sources, and so are Courts of Law.

At 8/14/2006 10:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe there's a bright side in all of this. If Milwaukee let's go of Ha Seung-Jin, given Sterling's liking of Koreans over Blacks maybe Ha can play third string center for the Clips.

At 8/15/2006 8:10 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

d.d., i'm ashamed that i didn't look that up myself. nice work.


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