Basketball, Football, Racism

The NBA Constitution Is Not A Suicide Pact

My father had a theory. Like most of his theories, he freely admitted that he had probably heard or read it somewhere else. At any rate, the theory involved the scrubs who sat at the end of NBA benches and how a subtle and acceptable racism dictated that those guys who would never see the court anyway would be unusually pale. That if a player wasn’t helping a team win, why would you waste the slot on another black guy? Might as well throw a bone to the largely white fanbase who bought up all the tickets. This theory, of the Token White Guy, holds a sort of narrative power. It makes sense as a story and, facts be damned, has the ring of truth to it. The towel-waving honk at the end of the bench stands for a gentler racism. The inevitability of racism usefully funneled into something nobody cares about.

This week, racism in the NBA took a darker turn (pun WHOLLY intended!). As Donald Sterling was run out of the league on a rail, the Internet exploded in the way it does and the way stars do until nothing was left but the White Dwarf, Donald Sterling. The shrunken remains of a normal star… the degenerate matter.

Which feels a bit like what I’m left with after a week of this story. The degenerate matter. Still, there are words yet unsaid and positions yet untaken. Let us reflect on these serious matters, legally. Like we were trained. This whole thing may open up new vistas of understanding about our notions of justice. Or not.

Whatever, let’s talk sports…


The Pie Chart of Record, USA Today, offered up a fantastic rundown of the legal future of Donald Sterling’s self-immolation yesterday. To recap, Donald Sterling was suspended for life from the NBA and his team, the Los Angeles Clippers, after he was taped saying bizarrely racist things to his weird looking girlfriend about what race of human she’s allowed to pose for pictures with. As NBA owners meet and promised to re-meet to dot the necessary “i”s on Sterling’s permanent vacation, an attorney who has locked horns with Sterling in the past offered up this perfectly bitchy soundbite:

At least one person who has battled Sterling in court — lawyer Carl E. Douglas — thinks that’s exactly what will happen, and the NBA is prepared for that.

“Donald Sterling is a surly, defiant, tyrannical rich guy who is a bully and used to having his way,” Douglas said.

Personally, I prefer my tyrants to be a little surly. Hitler’s good cheer, for instance, felt wildly out of place given the context.

Douglas has good reason to view Sterling in such contempt, having been Elgin Baylor’s attorney when the NBA legend sued Sterling in 2009. That lawsuit led to numerous embarrassing revelations about Sterling that have only now received any sort of thorough consideration by the public. One aspect of that original lawsuit that is worth revisiting is the fact that Baylor sued the NBA along with Sterling. The league, then, was viewed as a co-conspirator of sorts:

Baylor’s counsel Alvin Pittman explained why the league was added.

“The NBA is akin to an individual to whom much is given, the NBA regulates the entirety of professional basketball, yet we expect or ask little of it when it comes to the issue of employment of minorities in executive positions,” he said.

“The NBA will fine people for speech and conduct but on a significant issue such as discrimination in employment within the executive ranks, minorities can play the game but the NBA is deaf, blind and mute when it comes to the issue of employment discrimination within the executive ranks.”

The NBA: still probably playing a mean pinball. A substantive issue like employment discrimination is a less sexy and, thus, more intractable issue for the league. But, g-damnit all to hell, they’ll finish second to none when it comes to getting in front of embarrassing speech.

But then, justice is not a principled thing. It’s a story we tell ourselves. A set of moral concepts reverse-engineered from its obvious conclusion. Here, the obvious conclusion is that Donald Sterling is an embarrassing bigot who will cost the NBA untold millions. It would have been great to be able to rest our decision on someone as sturdy as Elgin Baylor. Alas, we are left with V. Stiviano. So it goes.

Hey, at least the basketball players are joking again!

In other oppression news, 49ers fans RISE UP…

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