Donald Sterling: All Wrong

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I wasn’t sure I wanted to write about this. Everything I had read or heard about the topic made it pretty clear that if Donald Sterling said what he is accused of having said, then he was in the wrong, and his attitude has no place in the NBA or in 21st century society for that matter. It all seemed pretty open and shut. Then I saw the reader comments on an ESPN article that gave the reactions of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson and was reminded that there are two sides to every story even if one of them is idiotic. So I’m going to give my two cents and keep them relatively factual.

Part of Sterling’s alleged racist remarks as printed in a Deadspin article:

“…I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? … Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners, that created the league?”

Aside from coming off like a plantation owner circa 1800, and assuming that the answers to these rhetorical questions are all expected to come in the affirmative, every point is wrong.

Sterling does not give his players, coaches, or management team anything. He pays them for their services. He made a business decision and hired each individual to perform a job. And according to Forbes, he made good investments in these employees as the Clippers team is valued at $565 million and netted $15 million in operational revenue last year.

Sterling does not “make the game.” “The game” is a live entertainment product that is “made” of a team of athletes working together to compete against another team under agreed upon rules. Sterling purchased a franchise with the rights to field a team (for $12 million dollars by the way), leased a space to put on their games, and hired the players and staff. That is not “making the game.” It is performing one essential task in a complex system necessary for this particular entertainment product to be successful, and no more or less important than the actual players who fans come to see.

Finally, 30 owners did not create the league. The NBA was founded in 1949 when two other leagues merged. There were initially 17 franchises, but they quickly contracted to an eight team league. The subsequent expansion and promotion of the league into the giant success that it is today occurred while the Clippers were a floundering nothing of an organization best known for season ticket holder Billy Crystal and their cheapskate owner, who was willing to lose with a substandard roster year after year while the likes of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan increased league popularity and artificially enhanced the value of his team.

Not only are Sterling’s alleged statements backwards and mean-spirited, they are also self-aggrandizing and inaccurate. I don’t know how a sports league is expected to penalize the owner of one of its franchises, but I hope while Adam Silver and company are reviewing the list of allegations, pride and ignorance are listed among them.

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