What’s worse: a soccer (football) fan throwing a banana at Brazilian defender Dani Alves during last weekend’s match between Barcelona and Villareal, or a white, longtime owner of an NBA franchise allegedly telling his girlfriend not to associate with black people?
I have to admit, upon first seeing the banana video Sunday night, I was filled with some sort of American sports pride. Incidents like this are rampant in European stadiums, while it’s hard to imagine even the most heated rivalries (Sox-Yankees, etc) including this kind of disrespect from fans. But before you could say Donald “Slumlord Billionaire” Sterling, that pride was served a big slice of humble (apple?) pie.
It’s easy to cast proverbial stones at fans casting real bananas at players of color. It’s another to face up to the fact that the NBA has been enabling racist Los Angeles Clippers owner Sterling since he bought the San Diego Clippers over twenty years ago.
As Mychal Densel Smith notes in The Nation, Sterling “broke the rules of how one should go about being racist in America,” and we Americans just don’t tolerate “impolite racism.”
There is a barrage of commentary regarding the Sterling incident, but as Charlie Pierce points out over at Grantland, the NBA (ie former commissioner David Stern, and his assistant, new commissioner Adam Silver) chose to let several not so sterling Sterling incidents—from a sexual harrasment suit, to charges of housing discrimination (based on race)—slide, while focusing instead on the dress code of the league’s (largely African-American) players, and the “sense of professionalism” that come from such appearances.
“In fact, not onle can it be said that the NBA tolerated this clown,” Pierce writes, “it can be argued that the league actively empowered him. After all, the sainted … Stern was a lot harder on rap music and on clothing than he ever was on Sterling.”
Not long after Stern [instituted his dress code], the Department of Justice was preparing to sue Sterling in federal court for refusing to rent to minority tenants. But that, of course, had nothing to do with the NBA’s “sense of professionalism.” Stern also intervened to scuttle the trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers, which resulted in Paul winding up in Sterling’s employ so that, this weekend, as president of the National Basketball Players Association, Paul would find himself denouncing racist prattle that allegedly came from the guy who signs his checks. Donald Sterling is the Caliban of the NBA’s golden age, and the league has known it for decades, and has done precious little about it.