Why Sterling Was Banned From the NBA

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, along with other billionaire owners said they were shocked by L.A. Clippers owner, Donald Sterling’s, racist comments. But they couldn’t have been shocked at what he said – only that he got caught.

Sterling and his racism were not a secret to the NBA. He is a billionaire, racist slumlord, who made his money ripping off low-income tenants. In a 2009 lawsuit, court documents have him saying that “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building” and “black tenants smell and attract vermin” – and that’s why he doesn’t rent to them.

Even the general manager of the Clippers, Elgin Baylor, sued Sterling for racial discrimination. He testified that Sterling has a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude,” that he wanted to fill his team with “poor black boys from the South and a white head coach,” and that Sterling said he didn’t like “offering a lot of money for a poor black kid,” no matter how good he was.

These lawsuits were public, all covered in L.A. and some national media. But for 33 years the blatant racism of Sterling was tolerated by the NBA. This time something was different. Yes, it was caught on tape for anyone to hear. But the NBA could have delayed their punishment. They could have taken their sweet time and called for some prolonged investigation. But they didn’t.

In a sport with over 70 percent black players, Sterling said he does not want his girlfriend to bring black men to his games, that he doesn’t want her to post pictures hanging out with black men. When she asked him, “Do you know that you have a whole team that’s black, that plays for you,” Sterling replied: “I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses.”

The night before the commissioner issued the punishment to Sterling, there was a conference call with the commissioner, other owners, and players throughout the league, where the players said they were ready to strike until Sterling was dealt with.

Golden State Warrior, Stephen Curry, said that the players planned to all walk off the court right at the jump ball in game five. Curry said: “It would have been our only chance to make a statement in front of the biggest audience that we weren’t going to accept anything but the maximum punishment. We would deal with the consequences later but we were not going to play.” So, the NBA gave into the players’ demands instead of provoking a potential strike of the whole playoffs.

It’s true that the huge salaries of many pro athletes put them in a different world than workers. But there are still similarities that wouldn’t have been missed by the millions of workers watching the playoffs had this strike unfolded.

An NBA team is like most companies: the workers do all the work, customers pay all the money, and the owners, who do nothing, make all the profit. Players along with the coaching staff play the games, the fans pay the money, and the owners who collect all the profit are pointless.

How many of us can relate to this at our own workplace? How many of us have to deal with racism and discrimination from our own boss? How many of us know what it is like to work ourselves to exhaustion during the whole week just to make some rich boss we’ve never even seen wealthier?

In this climate of record profits for bosses and bankers, of outrageous fortunes for the richest one percent, it’s not hard to imagine workers seeing a connection between the fight of the players and our own lives. And of course the NBA, corporate sponsors, and CEO’s across the country did not want working people to witness the collective struggle of people to bring down a racist billionaire – whether some of these people were millionaire players or not. The last thing they want is for workers to feel empowered to do something similar against the rest of this class of bigoted billionaires.

That’s why Donald Sterling won’t be going to any more games, not because of his racism – the NBA had no problem with that for decades.