By Arturo R. García
If you’ve ever wished black history could be celebrated every month, the L.A. Clippers are feeling you – sorta.
No, that picture (via Ball Don’t Lie) is not a fake. It’s a real advert the Clips paid for and ran in the Los Angeles Times this past Sunday, promoting their Black History Month “celebration” … on March 2.
It’s tough to say what’s worse: that the Times would run this ad, or the fact that the typo isn’t even the worst thing about it.
Let’s start with the picture. Putting Blake Griffin in the ad? Okay, that’s a good call. If you’re not following basketball, the video below should explain why.
From there, things start getting problematic. It’d be interesting to know how the team plans to screen the 1,000 “underprivileged children” who will get into the game for free, because Clippers fans are a disenfranchised population all their own. But the “two tickets per ad/two ads per family” clause hints at the worst instincts of the team’s owner, Donald Sterling.
Including Sterling’s grinning mug in the ad crosses the line from incompetence to downright ignorance, if not arrogance. Sterling isn’t just widely known as the worst owner in the NBA, but he was sued by the U.S. Department of Justice not even five years ago for discriminatory housing practices, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. And, as ESPN’s Bomani Jones noted at the time, this wasn’t even Sterling’s first offense:
Sterling was sued for housing discrimination by 19 plaintiffs in 2003, according to The Associated Press. In this case, Sterling was accused of trying to drive blacks and Latinos out of buildings he owned in Koreatown. In November, Sterling was ordered to pay a massive settlement in that case. Terms were not disclosed, but the presiding judge said this was “one of the largest” settlements ever in this sort of matter. The tip of the iceberg: Sterling had to play $5 million just for the plaintiffs’ attorney fees.
Sterling’s insidious practices and prejudices were spelled out more clearly by ESPN The Magazine’s Peter Keating in 2009, as he wrote about a conversation between Sterling and Sumner Davenport, one of his property supervisors, after Sterling had acquired the Aardmore Apartments in Koreatown:
When Sterling first bought the Ardmore, he remarked on its odor to Davenport. “That’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean,” he said, according to Davenport’s testimony. “And it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day.” He added: “So we have to get them out of here.” Shortly after, construction work caused a serious leak at the complex. When Davenport surveyed the damage, she found an elderly woman, Kandynce Jones, wading through several inches of water in Apartment 121. Jones was paralyzed on the right side and legally blind. She took medication for high blood pressure and to thin a clot in her leg. Still, she was remarkably cheerful, showing Davenport pictures of her children, even as some of her belongings floated around her.
Jones had repeatedly walked to the apartment manager’s office to plead for assistance, according to sworn testimony given by her daughter Ebony Jones in the Housing Rights Center case. Kandynce Jones’ refrigerator dripped, her dishwasher was broken, and her apartment was always cold. Now it had flooded. Davenport reported what she saw to Sterling, and according to her testimony, he asked: “Is she one of those black people that stink?” When Davenport told Sterling that Jones wanted to be reimbursed for the water damage and compensated for her ruined property, he replied: “I am not going to do that. Just evict the bitch.”
Repairs never came. The shower stopped working, and the toilet wouldn’t flush; Jones needed to use a plunger and disposed of waste tissue in bags.
Kandynce Jones departed the home she loved but that caused her so much grief when she passed away, on July 21, 2003, at age 67.
Ultimately, Sterling paid the DOJ 2.725 million to settle the case against him. But if you thought Sterling kept his idiocy off the court, you’d be mistaken. A wrongful termination suit brought against him by his former longtime general manager, Elgin Baylor, is still pending. In court documents cited by the Times, Baylor accuses Sterling of maintaining a “plantation mentality”:
In court papers, Baylor said that Jim Brewer, then an assistant with the Clippers, wanted the chance to interview for the head coaching job after Bill Fitch was dismissed following the 1997-98 season.
“I believe he [Sterling] was a little reluctant at first but I said, ‘We owe him that courtesy.’ So we go there and we sit down and Brewer starts talking about his qualifications, that he believed he could do the job of being the head coach,” Baylor said in court papers.
“And when he finished, Donald said something that was very shocking to me. He said, ‘Personally, I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players. And I was shocked. And he looked at me and said, ‘Do you think that’s a racist statement?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. That’s plantation mentality.”
Baylor’s suit alleges that Sterling’s refusal to pay market value, on top of his attitudes, has cost the team numerous top-level black players over the years. But it didn’t stop him from objectifying them. As J.A. Adende reported on TrueHoop, court documents revealed several more disturbing stories of Sterling’s behavior, including this one:
“While ignoring my suggestions and isolating me from decisions customarily reserved for general managers, the Clippers attempted to place the blame for the team’s failures on me,” Baylor said in the declaration. “During this same period, players Sam Cassell, Elton Brand and Corey Maggette complained to me that DONALD STERLING would bring women into the locker room after games, while the players were showering, and make comments such as, ‘Look at those beautiful black bodies.’ I brought this to Sterling’s attention, but he continued to bring women into the locker room.”
And this team once thought it had a shot at signing Kobe Bryant? Does anybody think Blake Griffin is going to be happy being Sterling’s show pony?
But the oddest part of this story is the silence from on high. In a league where there’s a strict dress code; where criticizing referees gets you harsh words from league commissioner David Stern; and where there’s a continued insistence that said referees aren’t informed by their own prejudices, even if they might not lead to incidents as egregious as Sterling’s, the league and Stern have said absolutely schtum on the matter of Sterling. Not even after Sterling reportedly told Stern, “I would fire you.”
It’s not like there’s a lack of precedent for leagues stepping in to clean an owner’s mess: Major League Baseball famously stepped in and forced Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott out of the game. And the NBA’s rule forbidding teams from trading away their first-round picks in consecutive years was instituted to protect them against meddling executives. Will Sterling’s latest faux pas finally force the league’s hand?
Thanks to Kevin for the tip!