Pitchforks and Torches—Rough ‘Justice’ for Mr. Sterling

That’ll teach him!


The villain I never heard of—till Monday

Memphis Grizzlies v San Antonio Spurs - Game One

Before midday Monday I had never heard of Donald Sterling.

By mid afternoon I wished I hadn’t.

After seeing John’s tweet at lunch, then following the story backwards, Twitter-style, I was disgusted.

But not as much as I was last night when I finally saw Adam Silver’s pronouncement from on high.

Official NBA transcript:

ADAM SILVER: Shortly after the release of an audio recording this past Saturday morning of a conversation that allegedly included Clippers owner Donald Sterling, the NBA commenced an investigation, which among other things, included an interview of Mr. Sterling.

That investigation is now complete. The central findings of the investigation are that the man whose voice is heard on the recording and on a second recording from the same conversation that was released on Sunday is Mr. Sterling and that the hateful opinions voiced by that man are those of Mr. Sterling.

The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful; that they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage.

Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural and multiethnic league.

I am personally distraught that the views expressed by Mr. Sterling came from within an institution that has historically taken such a leadership role in matters of race relations and caused current and former players, coaches, fans and partners of the NBA to question their very association with the league.

To them, and pioneers of the game like Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Sweetwater Clifton, the great Bill Russell, and particularly Magic Johnson, I apologize. Accordingly, effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA. Mr. Sterling may not attend any NBA games or practices. He may not be present at any Clippers facility, and he may not participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team.

He will also be barred from attending NBA Board of Governors meetings or participating in any other league activity.

I am also fining Mr. Sterling $2.5 million, the maximum amount allowed under the NBA constitution. These funds will be donated to organizations dedicated to anti discrimination and tolerance efforts that will be jointly selected by the NBA and its Players Association.

As for Mr. Sterling’s ownership interest in the Clippers, I will urge the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team and will do everything in my power to ensure that that happens. This has been a painful moment for all members of the NBA family. I appreciate the support and understanding of our players during this process, and I am particularly grateful for the leadership shown by Coach Doc Rivers, Union President Chris Paul and Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, who has been acting as the players’ representative in this matter.

We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views. They simply have no place in the NBA. Thank you, and I’ll take any questions.

Notice that Mr. Silver is acting in the first person singular.

Notice also that he is punishing Sterling, not for anything he did, not for anything he said in public—but solely because of views expressed in anger to an intimate, not knowing he was being recorded.

As toxic as the thoughts expressed were, they were as intimately—and privately—expressed as is possible. But they were recorded without his knowledge and disseminated vengefully.

Not exactly a sterling character—but some of us knew that long before this

Sterling is not a sympathetic figure by anyone’s imagining. And that was true long before this private conversation was recorded or most of us had ever heard of him.

Just perusing Wikipedia:

  • June 26, 2006: Sterling announces plans “a seemingly ambitious but mysterious plan to build a huge homeless services center in the heart of skid row.” The center has never been built.
  • August 2006: 

The U.S. Department of Justice sued Sterling for housing discrimination in using race as a factor in filling some of his apartment buildings. The suit charged that Sterling refused to rent to non-Koreans in the Koreatown neighborhood and to African Americans in Beverly Hills. The suit alleges Sterling once said he did not like to rent to Hispanics because they “smoke, drink and just hang around the building,” and that “Black tenants smell and attract vermin.” In November 2009, ESPN reported that Sterling agreed to pay a fine of $2.73 million to settle claims brought by the Justice Department and Davin Day of Newport Beach that he engaged in discriminatory rental practices against Hispanics, blacks, and families with children. In addition, Sterling was also ordered to pay attorneys’ fees and costs in that action of $4,923,554.75. In granting the attorney’s fees and costs Judge Dale S. Fischer noted “Sterling’s’ scorched earth’ litigation tactics, some of which are described by the Plaintiffs’ counsel and some of which were observed by the Court. The Court has no difficulty accepting Plaintiffs’ counsel’s representations that the time required to be spent on this case was increased by defendant’s counsel’s often unacceptable, and sometimes outrageous conduct.”

  • In February 2009:

Sterling was sued by former longtime Clippers executive Elgin Baylor for employment discrimination on the basis of age and race. The lawsuit alleges Sterling told Baylor that he wanted to fill his team with “poor black boys from the South and a white head coach”. The suit alleges that during negotiations for Danny Manning, Sterling said “I’m offering a lot of money for a poor black kid.” The suit noted those comments while alleging “the Caucasian head coach was given a four-year, $22-million contract”, but Baylor’s salary had “been frozen at a comparatively paltry $350,000 since 2003”

Sterling acquired the Kings in 1981 and remained owner throughout all these controversies. Which, unlike his surreptitiously recorded conversation, involved concrete actions and policies that actually affected real people.

So why act now?

Because times have changed.

Not our attitudes toward racial animus and discrimination. But how we view justice and the value we give to due process.

Now we have rough justice. The justice of the mob. The justice of pitchforks and torches.

The “justice” of one man behind a microphone with the power to move from initial awareness of a recording on Saturday morning to the virtual confiscation of millions of dollars worth of private property on Tuesday afternoon.

Because he can.

Because the mob demands it.

For what is essentially a thought crime.

The test of true leadership

Adam Silver I was having an exchange with a friend on Twitter.

Short exchange.

He and his buddies were high-fiving each other as they weighed Adam Silver’s press conference performance and found it far from wanting.

My friend: “Politicians take note: THAT was a news conference. Plain-spoken, concise and accountable.

Me: “And you agreed with it…”

My friend: “100 percent”

Me: “I find that admiration for a leader grows the more congruent their respective moral high dudgeon. Disagree? Not so much.”

I’m not sure how clear my statement came across, squeezed as it was into such tight tweet-space.

We all, I think, tend to admire the leadership of folks who a) agree with us on what must be done and then b) act on that belief.

And we call them strong leaders.

But what if Silver hadn’t agreed with my friend?

What if he’d thought “I hate what Sterling said. I hate what he believes. But I can’t take away a person’s franchise—an actually tangible asset acquired with real money, and put at risk—based on a single, surreptitiously-recorded private conversation.”

Would he have been less of a leader?

I submit to you that deft, decisive crisis management is not always a demonstration of real leadership.

I think a real leader would’ve stood in front of the mob and convinced them to stand down.

I long for that kind of leadership to show itself in today’s America.

Because we’re not going to survive long if that doesn’t happen.



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