Posts Tagged ‘basketball’

Donald Sterling: NBA Plantation Owner

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

By Bob Gaydos

Donald Sterling

Donald Sterling

Once again sports, which are supposed to be diversions from real life for most of us, have delivered a morality play. There is no title for this tragi-comedy, nor indeed, a final act. What there is is a villainous main character who offers many reasons for hating him, a crucial supporting character who will win no accolades for her own behavior, and a host of bit players, who find common ground in attacking the main character.

The villain is Donald Sterling, a narcissistic white male, 80-year-old, pot-bellied, misogynistic, racist, adulterer, liar, ingrate, real estate tycoon, lawyer, multi-millionaire, who owns the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team.

Sterling would have been right at home as a plantation owner in the Old South. Until recently, he had a 31-year-old girlfriend/mistress (the latest in a succession of women to whom he admits he gave lavish gifts in exchange for sex). The girlfriend, V. Stiviano, is the supporting character.

In a taped private conversation made public, Sterling tells Stiviano he doesn’t want her posting photos on the Internet of herself with “black men” or coming to Clippers games with black men, including Magic Johnson. Stiviano is of Mexican and African-American heritage. Sterling’s basketball team is composed of African-American men. Indeed, more than 90 percent of the players in the National Basketball Association, in which the Clippers play, are African-American.

Sterling’s comments grabbed headlines, dominated TV news and the Internet and caused a furor within the NBA. The new commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, acted quickly, banning Sterling from the league for life, fining him $2.5 million and asking other team owners to demand that Sterling sell his team. Silver is as close to a hero as we get in this play because he is new to his job and took decisive action.

But the thing is, no one in the NBA — owners, officials, players, coaches — should have been surprised by Sterling’s remarks. In fact, most probably weren’t. He has been sued more than once for discrimination against minorities in his housing projects and paid millions of dollars to settle the cases. He was sued in 2009 for wrongful job termination on the basis of race and age by a former team general manager, Elgin Baylor. Baylor, 79, a member of the NBA Hall of Fame, said in his lawsuit that Sterling had a “vision of a Southern plantation-type structure,” of instilling a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude towards his team and that Sterling wanted the team to be ”composed of ‘poor black boys from the South’ and a white head coach.” Baylor further said his salary was frozen at $350,000 a year for six years while the white head coach, who theoretically reported to Baylor, was given a $22 million contract.

Sterling also sued one of his former mistresses for the return of gifts he gave her. His deposition includes him referring to her as a “piece of trash” and “a total freak,’’ whom he called “honey.” He said he calls “everybody” honey, especially women with whom he’s having sex “because you can’t remember her name.”

That was in 2004, a time when he was running the cheapest plantation-style organization in the NBA. He wouldn’t pay for good players. Nobody said or did anything about Sterling then. Not much fuss was made about Baylor’s suit (from which he dropped the racism claim and which he eventually lost). The NBA — and the media — also apparently didn’t see any problem with the bias lawsuits that Sterling settled out of court. And no one said a word about his attitude toward women. Shhh, that’s just Donald being Donald.

Sterling is the classic example of something we have seen too much of lately in America, in politics and business as well as sports: the rich white guy who believes he can do as he pleases because, well, he’s a rich white guy. He feels entitled to treat people as he wishes. So he can have a girlfriend 50 years his junior, of mixed racial heritage, and tell her not to hang out with black men — because he’s given her two Bentleys, a condominium, lots of cash and who knows what else. He can boast about feeding and clothing his team of talented black athletes because, after all, those are his boys out there on the court. And that’s his beautiful half-black mistress at his side. I pay you. I own you.

Except that V. Stiviano was no innocent. She got her lavish gifts (Sterling’s wife is suing to get them back, claiming her estranged husband was sought out and enticed). And Stiviano taped his racist remarks, though her lawyer claims she didn’t release the tape to the TV show TMZ and others.

In the age of instant communication, the NBA’s secret — Donald Sterling, who owns a team composed of black athletes, is a racist — was now public. The NBA players, many of whom are millionaires themselves, are unionized. Not exactly chattel. They talked about boycotting the league’s showcase event — the playoffs. Advertisers dropped like flies from the Clippers’ account. Even the president of the United States was condemning Sterling. Suddenly, he was no longer just an embarrassment that the rest of the league could try to hide or ignore; he was a threat to the image and financial well-being of the other wealthy owners. Oh yeah, and for the record, he’s a racist and virtually all our players — who are, after all, the lure of the league — are black. The misogyny apparently still gets a pass from the league and the press.

So, the era of complicity in the NBA regarding Donald Sterling is over. But he says he has no intention of selling his team and might challenge any such demand from other owners in court. He might have a case, but if he sells he’ll make a huge profit. Stiviano says she didn’t mean to harm Sterling. She is also fighting Sterling wife’s demand to return his lavish gifts. Potential suitors are emerging to buy the Clippers, who are now a good team. And Clippers players and coaches are still trying to win basketball games.

More remains to be revealed in this saga. But what is abundantly and depressingly clear is the arrogance of Sterling and the license his wealth gave him to flaunt it for years. The NBA’s silence for so long on him is as much an indictment of the league — owners, officials, players, coaches –as Sterling’s words and behavior are of him. Ignoring racism, hoping it will somehow go away of its own accord, never works.

As for Sterling, he apparently believed so strongly that his wealth gives him power to do and say as he pleases and make other people do as he pleases, that he didn’t hide his racist feelings from Stiviano. It was second nature to him. Nor, in his arrogance, did he suspect that she might try to set him up by taping their private conversation. Which in the end may go to prove that there’s still no fool like an old fool. Rich white guy or not.

 

One Man Out in a Nation of Intolerance

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

jason-collins-comes-out1By Bob Gaydos

When Jason Collins revealed earlier this week that he is gay, it was widely hailed as the first time a male athlete who was still actively playing in one of the four major professional sports leagues had revealed his homosexuality. A watershed moment. And it is, if not quite the watershed as has been described.

Collins, 34, made his announcement in a Sports Illustrated article that appeared on the Internet after the season had ended for his team, the Washington Wizards. An athlete of modest talents and tremendous character, Collins is a free agent now, meaning he has no contract with any team and is free to sign with anyone who wants him. That creates an interesting scenario for next year in the NBA. Collins says he wants to keep playing basketball. Will some NBA team oblige? Will his open homosexuality be welcomed as an asset by some progressive team owner, along with his 7-foot height and “team player’’ reputation, or will Collins be shunned and wind up, in effect, like other male athletes who have come out only when their careers were over?

Make no mistake, given the homophobia that dominates locker rooms in male sports, his simple declaration is at once matter-of-fact and bold. The overwhelmingly encouraging response to his statement, especially among his NBA peers and other pro athletes, attests to the respect with which Collins is perceived as well as to the fact that this country is, albeit slowly and torturously, turning a corner on yet another moral issue. For those reasons, barring injury, I think Collins will wind up with a contract in the NBA next year and become the perfect role model he has been called in stories announcing his decision to stop living a life of lies.

But this is just the beginning of what is likely at times to be an ugly, hateful path to acceptance. The truth is, this “melting pot” of a country does not handle “different” well. Whether it be skin color, religion, nationality, language, country of origin, gender, age, sexual preference or even food choice, many Americans speak and act today as if liberty, justice and equality are rights granted solely to them and their ilk because, well, because they say so and that’s all they need to know. So please, do not bother them with the facts and save your moralizing for your socialist, atheist friends. (Put political views on that list as well.)

I ascribe this harsh reaction to “different” to fear and ignorance, the bellwethers of the tea party faithful who have cowed the Republican Party into submission. Greed, too. Many people, I believe, are afraid that they are going to lose something they perceive as rightfully theirs if someone else of a different race or nationality or religious belief or country of origin or sexual orientation, or, in the case of many men, of a different gender, is afforded the same opportunities as them. Sharing is not an option, whatever their religion preaches. (Put economic status on the list, too.)

Despite our pumped-up national pride and high-minded ideals, we do not always practice what we preach. We have, in fact, become a nation in which angry, self-righteous, holier-than-thou and, sometimes, just plain dumb people dominate national debate because of the vehemence with which they express their views and the money they are willing to spend brow-beating the rest of us. Loud is good. Louder is better. Nasty is good. Insulting is better. Facts are bad. Phony TV ads are good. Compassion is for the weak. Guns are the answer.

The Jason Collins story is definitely a positive one about wider acceptance for people simply for who they are. He is 7 feet tall, black and gay. He went to Stanford and plays basketball. Young gay men who play sports, or not, may be more likely to follow their dreams because of him and less likely to be fearful, secretive and easily bullied. It’s a start.

But this is not a simple feel-good story. Collins has a twin brother who also played in the NBA and who says he didn’t know his brother was gay until the rest of the world found out. That’s sad. And it’s sad that Collins felt the need to hide his homosexuality even from himself for so long because a lot of people in this country are so busy minding everyone else’s business and deciding what is right and wrong. I personally don’t think they are a majority, but they are a persistent, aggressive minority.

That means those of us who disagree with them must shed the comfortability of basking in our own, self-assured sense of enlightenment and do battle with the forces of hate and ignorance. That means speaking out against all forms of injustice and exploitation, insisting on laws that protect individual rights, not corporate profits, and electing representatives who will pass those laws. It means exposing bullies for what they are, punishing those who see violence as a means to their ends, insisting on helping the disadvantaged (as our duty, not their entitlement), and not letting fear or weariness prevent us from exposing fraud and simple prejudice.

It also means telling those who would tell others they see as “different” to get over it. Mind your own business. Live your own lives. A gay man in a locker room? They’ve been there for decades. Also in Army barracks. They just had to hide it because of institutional ignorance and bias. Again, this is changing, if slowly, in America. Tolerance is a bitch. It requires one to simply accept another person for what he or she is, in toto, without insisting that person change or agree with one’s particular set of “rules.” It can be uncomfortable, but so long as the person represents no real (not perceived) danger to one’s well-being, there should be only one rule to apply to everyone: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” There’s a reason it’s called the Golden Rule.

bob@zestoforange.com

 

 

 

NBA Players Too Occupied with Greed

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

By Bob Gaydos

Having spent most of five decades tracking, reporting and commenting on the news of the day, I have developed a routine, a defense mechanism actually, for dealing with those days when the news is just too damn depressing. I turn to the sports page.

Of course, in the past couple of decades, sports news has been far from the guaranteed escape from the real world it once was. Some of that is probably due to my evolution as a human being (leaving behind childish things, etc.), but most of it I am sure has to do with the devolution of sports from fun and games to law and order. Hue and cry. Sturm und drang. Sue or be sued. Pick your couplet.

Monday was one of those days. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for some reason decided to go Big Brother on the Occupy Wall Street protestors, sending in hundreds of police before dawn to break up the Zuccotti Park encampment while preventing legitimate news media from covering the action and even arresting several reporters. Instead of trying to talk to protestors and resolve complaints about the occupation, the mayor and police used the oldest and lamest of excuses for their illegal actions against the press — it was for their safety. Right. Just like tossing the protestors belongings into dumpsters was for their health and well-being.

What with police on the West Coast dealing with Occupy movements by beating Iraq War veterans and college students and using tear gas as if they had a quota to meet, I needed a break.

I turned to sports.

Thanks for nothing, NBA players union.

On that very Monday that thousands of Americans across the country, ranging from college students to retirees, union and non-union, encompassing all census classifications — the truly average Americans — were being manhandled for protesting against the profound economic inequities that have turned so many of their dreams into nightmares and bullied a once model political system into becoming an obedient servant of wealthy masters, the very talented, privileged and self-absorbed players of the National Basketball Association rejected an offer from team owners to share half the income derived from playing basketball.

That’s a long sentence; let it sink in.

Not only did the players reject the latest offer from the owners, but they also decided to decertify their union and sue the league under anti-trust laws. We can start with how dumb this is by noting that, with no union, the owners say there are no contracts and, thus, no pay checks. For most Americans, this is considered a powerful incentive to work out a deal, but apparently not for pro basketball players.

That may have to do with the fact that the average salary of an NBA player is about $5.5 million a year. That’s an average, which means even the guy who only gets to play when the game is out of hand, is a borderline millionaire.

What the players did not consider, however, was the impact of their decision on all the other people — the 99% that the Occupiers are demonstrating for — who will also lose their jobs if there is no NBA season. No games means no need for concessions, no maintenance crew, no security, no ticket sellers, no locker room employees, no trainers, maybe even no office personnel for teams with smaller bankrolls. And of course, no games.

The irony of their action, taking place in Manhattan not far from the OWS crackdown, was lost on these young millionaires, locked in a struggle with billionaires over how to divvy up the loot from their overpriced tickets. I will go out on a limb here and state that probably not one of the NBA players — multi-millionaires to borderline millionaires — was part of that 1% of wealthiest Americans before signing a contract to play professional basketball. I don’t ever remember reading a story about some really rich kid deciding to play pro ball. If someone else has, please let me know. No, they were, I feel secure in saying, rock solid members of the 99%. And not long ago, either.

Instead of arguing with the team owners — who will survive a lost season but who do after all have a right to try to control their product and get a fair return on their considerable investments — the NBA players could have taken a cue from other labor unions and marched with the Occupy Wall Street protestors. Imagine Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James walking with the OWS throng and speaking out for the need to regulate the way large financial institutions deal with other people’s money. Calling for a lessening of the power rich corporations have over politicians. Demanding that those who caused the worldwide economic crisis be prevented from continuing to profit on it while others pay the price in lost jobs and homes.

“Hello 99 per centers! We stand with you! We have been fortunate to become successful and be rewarded financially for God-given talents, but we came from you and we understand your frustration and anger with the inequities in our society. It is time for our elected leaders to work for the benefit of the 99%, as well as for the 1% who finance their campaigns. Indeed, it is time for all of us to set aside selfish demands and begin to work for the common good. We are going back to playing basketball, which is what we do, so that others can go back to doing what they do. And we told the team owners we would take a smaller percentage of the profits if they reduced the price of tickets. Whaddya say, owners?”

Can you imagine the response? The players would be real heroes. Unfortunately, for the players at least, that didn’t happen. They’re still looking for more money and are not playing basketball. Fortunately, for the rest of us in the 99%, the Occupiers understand the situation and are committed to fighting for a larger goal — a more equitable society for everyone, whether they can dunk a basketball or not.

bob@zestoforange.com