The issues and opinion surrounding the “punishment” of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling seem as numerous as the motivation behind his punishment seems singular. For the vast majority, this was a necessary, punitive act of social justice. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s verdict, a lifetime ban, $2.5 million fine, and the forced sale of the franchise, was lauded as a just, brave, and devastating blow not only to Sterling, but to the other 29 owners as well. It emphatically stated that the Commissioner works for the league first and foremost, that the interests of the owners would not be prioritized over those of the players. Consensus agreed: this was the obvious path to retribution. Forget privacy. Forget ownership rights. Ethics supersedes business. Sterling was swiftly banned, fined, and the process of the forced sale was initiated. Justice was served. And yet, after all things considered, the scariest aspect to emerge from the whole ordeal is the perception that Adam Silver’s ruling changes anything for the better.
The pointlessness begins with the ridiculousness of Sterling’s punishment itself. If banning an 80-year-old man (who doesn’t like basketball) from attending basketball games for life doesn’t seem like much of a punishment, it’s because it isn’t. Same goes for fining a billionaire $2.5 million dollars, the equal of a parking ticket to the average American. Same goes for forcing said billionaire to sell his franchise for upwards of a thousand million dollars when he bought it for twelve. Whether assessed personally or financially, slaps on the wrist register more severely. That it took Sterling weeks to respond to the allegations should surprise no one. He probably didn’t notice, or likely didn’t care.
One of the reasons for Sterling’s lack of immediacy may be tied to the nature of his players’ reaction, which, like the league’s, prized the symbolic over the substantive. As a showing of rebellion and solidarity, The Clippers players elected to turn their shirts inside-out during the pregame warmups. They didn’t boycott the game, or even threaten to boycott the game. It proceeded like any other playoff contest, unless you count the players’ wearing of black socks, which is something that for some reason happened. Essentially, the Clippers players did what Donald Sterling had been paying Clippers players to do for thirty years: they took the court and lost. Their rebuke amounted to an empty PR move, one that allowed them to feign rebellion while embodying submission. Its greatest effects were a spike in ticket prices and increased revenue from merchandise sales. That game was on Sunday. No reports show whether they turned their clothes inside-out when they went to pick up their Sterling-signed checks on Wednesday, and this fact demonstrates how the NBA’s motivations behind this whole ordeal were less ethical than financial.
The Donald Sterling situation should not be misconstrued as anything less than an economic and public relations boon for the NBA. Its exposure in the general media has never been greater. The President has issued official comments on the situation. The league stands to achieve a massive ethical victory while ousting arguably its worst owner, which is saying something when you consider the average moral turpitude of an NBA owner. For a league desperate to counteract the ramifications of employing J.R. Smith, the Donald Sterling tapes are a godsend. Fucking Oprah has expressed interest in buying the team. Fucking Oprah. That’s the Game of Thrones equivalent of replacing Joffrey with Oprah.
(And sidebar: As a person who upholds somewhat transgressive beliefs, I don’t believe racism qualifies as a transgressive belief. Racism is an ungrounded, psychopathic delusion, pure and simple. Its justifications are as utterly make believe as those of misogyny and antisemitism. I don’t believe this; I know this. I believe sports franchises shouldn’t be privately owned. I believe educated adults who liked True Detective shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce. I believe that religion should be illegal and I believe that President Obama is a war criminal. What differentiates my beliefs from those of a racist like Donald Sterling is that my beliefs are founded in reason, not the other way around. To support my claims I can cite the success of the Green Bay Packers, the finale of True Detective, a PDF of The Bible and the charred remains of a civilian drone strike victim. The absolutist concept that either all speech is free or no speech is free is the same Laissez-faire bullshit that allows Fox News to sell heresy and Tyson Foods to pose as animal rights advocates. This is what happens when the right to have an opinion is conflated with the right to have a destructive, groundless opinion, and when it comes to opinions I am a staunch Republican: you have to earn it. It being your opinion, which is a privilege, not a right. What racists uphold is the hierarchical lunacy of divine decree, and one needs only to Google a PDF of The Bible to understand what a crock that is.)
Donald Sterling made it clear from the get-go that he viewed his purchase of the Clippers franchise purely as a financial opportunity, an investment that a basketball team happened to be attached to. His ability to reduce one of the most magnificent and joy-producing of sports to the banality of a government bond says more about him than any racist comments ever will. But he is in no way the victim in this situation. Sterling is the villain, but he isn’t the only one. The NBA is a villain for abiding him for thirty years, then acting like an SJW once it acknowledged what was long known. V. Stiviano is neither folk hero nor feminist crusader. She is a vindictive madwoman whose motives begin and end at self-interest. To paint her in any other light only demonstrates our pathological need to find hope where there is none, how conditioned our society has become to choosing between evil and lesser evil. We don’t just passively observe one of these evils triumph over the other; we actively celebrate it. This was the way of the world before the Donald Sterling tapes leaked. What’s different now?