The Business of Sports: An Ugly Affair

Being an avid sports fan from Los Angeles and an alleged Swarthmore student,  this post was inevitable.

TMZ first reported Sterling’s supposed racist diatribe to mistress/girl-friend V. Stiviano, which if verified might cement his position as the dumbest owner in the NBA. Per TMZ, Sterling allegedly said, “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that (instagram)…and not to bring them to my games.” The audio lasts about nine minutes, including all kinds of outdated philosophy reminiscent of early plantation politics.

But the most important question is why now? This isn’t a moment of lapse of judgment, Sterling has a long history of private vices. In 2006, “The U.S. Department of Justice sued Clippers owner and real estate mogul Donald Sterling for housing discrimination, claiming he refused to rent apartments to blacks and families with children,” according to The Associated Press. But all of this was brushed aside soon enough, when three years later, Sterling, “agreed to pay a record $2.725 million to settle [the] allegations,” according to the LA Times.  We would have seen it on Twitter, if he had not spent millions to cover it up (and if Twitter was actually invented). More recently in 2010, former LA Lakers great Elgin Baylor filed a wrongful termination suit against Sterling for exhibiting racism in the workplace. During deposition, Baylor spoke about Sterling’s ‘plantation mentality,’ alleging that in the 1990s, the owner rejected a coaching candidate, Jim Brewer, because of race. Baylor quoted Sterling as saying: ‘Personally, I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players.’ per the LA Times. This was all part of public record and the league never denounced him, the players continue to take his money, his business partners (NBA and its other owners) shared his immense wealth, and the fans were loyally subsidizing his business.

But why now? Better late than never right? Not quite.

What TMZ reported on tape had been long-standing practice and strongly-held personal belief for decades now. But the situation has received so much attention in social media and prime time news that his business partners can no longer play “hush-hush” to his vile views and overlook the fact that it is a serious risk to their prosperous enterprise. After all, as much as I like to believe otherwise, the NBA is a business and always has been.

Upon closer examination, some of the other owners in the league (Sterling’s partners and cohorts), aren’t exactly  model citizens either.

Richard Devos, owner of the Orlando Magics, allegedly invested millions of dollars in anti-gay marriage initiatives, because gays “keep asking for favors” and “special treatment,” and marriage is “not vital to them, in my opinion.” per Orlando Sentinel.

Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers made his billions in the mortgage business, helping to pass along sub-prime loans to infamous thieves such as Countrywide, which then greased the derivatives that in part contributed to the economic crisis.

New owner of the Oklahoma City Thunders, Clay Bennett, got his billions through fracking, a practice that produces not only toxic drinking water but also irregular earthquakes. And when his business went bad, he simply left and the landowners out of their royalties.

Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, Russian billionaire and stylish oligarch, got his piggy bank started using political connections to grab billions in state-owned-assets for pennies when Russia first opened up to the world after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Last but definitely not least, you have slum-lord Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers, who refused to rent apartments to minorities because they “black tenants smell and attract vermin,” and “Mexicans sit around and drink all day” per LA Times.

This is just a short list of the 30 or so individuals who own and operate the league that I support with my viewership, who pay the players who I grew up idolizing and fantasizing about, and who made a business out of the sport that I loved for all of my life. And I am not going to kill myself over this, the NBA has done much good to counter balance the many illegitimate practices of its owners. Though the owners reaped in massive profits in the realms of billions each year, its local and international charity through NBA CARES, which is mostly promotional in purpose and operate on meager millions, has had a great impact on the world. If not through monetary help, then at least through spreading the sport of basketball through icons like Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo to two of the largest continents in the world.

Like most large global enterprises, the business of sports is an ugly affair, and most of the time the public is left in the dark or too occupied to care.

PS: I understand that all this evidence of bigotry was obtained in an invasion of Sterling’s privacy, which most of his critics decided to address until further information has been disclosed. I will conformed to the norm in this regard.