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By Stephane Dunn | With thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)


Tuesday, May 13, 2014.


What can really be done? The guy’s like a billionaire so a fine’s gonna be like a dollar." The guy, of course, is Donald Sterling, the now more infamous owner of the LA Clippers.  


My student, one of the hundreds of young black men at Morehouse College, echoed others.


“You can’t really get somebody for being prejudice and the girl was wrong. Who wants to be taped in the privacy of their own homes and then have somebody throw it out there. That ain’t right,” argued another.


‘What I don’t understand, “ A bewildered student wondered aloud, “Is how can he be racist like that when he was sleeping with somebody black and got all them black players, a black coach, and paying them all this money too?”


We were in class, a theory and criticism class, and I went into this whole discussion about the historical nature of white supremacy, of master-slave narratives, reminding them about the rape and exploitation of black women and men. But truthfully, it was inadequate. They were seriously confused, mostly by the idea that what Sterling embodies still exists to that extreme and by the uncertainty about what could be done or should anything be done by the NBA and the Clippers players themselves.


We now know that Adam Silver has made his first stand as NBA commissioner and responded, days after the firestorm broke, to Sterling’s racist rant to his former girlfriend. Silver banned Sterling for life from any physical participation in the NBA and the Clippers organization and fined him 2.5 million; ultimately, he can’t do what he says he hopes will happen – that Sterling be forced to sale his ownership in the LA Clippers. That’ll take a 75% vote by the other NBA owners; only several are these are minorities. Sterling can still make his Clippers money, and a lot of it, indefinitely. It’s not a moment for a victory dance or returning to game business as usual.


It’s a moment to direct a hard, long gaze at the racial politics implicit in the hierarchical structure of the NBA that has long been reality cause here is the truth we all know now too well: Donald Sterling was not a racist in hiding. David Stern and the owners knew who he was and has been and they were content to have him be one of them. His exploitation of poor, black, and Hispanic tenants has been public knowledge for years. In 2009, he settled a massive lawsuit due to his racist, discriminatory practices in housing and some shaky personnel problems within the league have dogged his business career. Listen to Elgin Baylor now.


Sterling’s only problem this time was that his business politics went viral, affecting NBA business, and commanding the attention of the media and the larger public. If he could have gone on with his racist business orientation being a minor, footnote in the media, none of the last few days would be happening. That’s what’s disturbing.  More disturbing, folks are already putting a footnote on this scandal, writing it off as a teachable moment, praising Silver and ready to move on, singing Kumbaya, “Can we all just get along” so we can get back to some good playoff basketball.


It will be shameful if this is basically it. There’s a lot more to be done notwithstanding our short attention span even for a good scandal. We need to remain disgusted that the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP was about to award Sterling again. Public censure, pressure, and interrogation of the last few days should now be directed to the NBA owners to demand that they stand on the right side of history and confront their own complicity in allowing the 21st century plantation-like nature of the NBA.


The players in other leagues should be sharing their desire for this with their franchise owner. Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, once declared his affection for Donald Sterling – and this was in light of the little attention Sterling was receiving even then for his racist practices. Will Cuban, will his colleagues, do the right thing now and vote Sterling out of the club? I love the playoffs but I can’t love the games more than I want to see the real heart of the NBA game finally changed.



Stephane Dunn, PhD, is a writer who directs the Cinema, Television, & Emerging Media Studies program at Morehouse College. She teaches film, creative writing, and literature. She is the author of the 2008 book, Baad Bitches & Sassy Supermamas: Black Power Action Films (U of Illinois Press). Her writings have appeared in Ms., The Chronicle of Higher Education, TheRoot.com, AJC, CNN.comand Best African American Essays, among others. Her recent work includes the Bronze Lens-Georgia Lottery Lights, Camera Georgia winning short film Fight for Hope and book chapters exploring representation in Tyler Perry's films.


Will Team Owners Be the Real Conscience of the NBA?

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