Justice Denied

by Dave Schuler on April 29, 2014

The story of the LA Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, apparently making racist comments in a recorded telephone message is the sort of outrage du jour that I don’t usually comment on here at The Glittering Eye. For more details see Joe Gandelman’s post. As usual, he has an extensive media and Internet roundup of comment on the incident. In this particular case I have a slant that I’m not seeing elsewhere so I thought I’d pass it along.

If you’re looking for an example of the problems money inequality in the form of unthinkably enormous wealth presents to a free and egalitarian society, look no farther. Mr. Sterling’s net worth is estimated to be in the billions. His views are scarcely a secret—some years back he was taken to court for them in a suit in which he prevailed, which may say more about our standards of justice than it does about the merits of the case. Other incidents, mostly on the public record, are being trotted out dutifully in the wake of the release of the tape.

Let’s consider for a moment what a just outcome would be. Mr. Sterling’s suspension, being forbidden to attend games or even go on the club’s premises, is scarcely a punishment at all. Inducing him to sell the franchise which he bought thirty years ago for something in the vicinity of $15 million and is now believed to be worth forty times that is even less of a punishment. The sale would net Mr. Sterling a neat half billion dollars. If that is punishment, I’ll have some.

The only punishment worthy of the name that the NBA can mete out is loss of the franchise, something that can be effected, reportedly, by a three-quarters vote of the owners. That appears to be off the table and the reasons reflect the NBA’s relative priorities. In the final analysis the NBA is much more concerned about a likely lawsuit, i.e. money and scandal, than it is about Mr. Sterling’s views. Large, wealthy institutions acting reprehensibly to preserve money and avoid scandal is something we have seen far too frequently in recent years.

What kind of freedom is it when you’re afraid to speak out for fear of loss of your livelihood, views that would have serious repercussions for someone of modest means have none for the wealthy, and there are different justices for the rich than for the poor? That’s the very definition of a class system.

Jefferson’s dream for the young United States was of a country in which most people did not have to depend on a by-your-leave from the lord of the manor for their daily bread and everyone was subject to the same law. How far we’ve strayed from that dream!

My dream is that we figure out how to reform our institutions in a way that more clearly reflects Jefferson’s dream rather than learn to accommodate to a class system.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

... April 29, 2014 at 8:29 am

If that is punishment, I’ll have some.

Thank you, sir, may I have another?

(No, you probably don’t need to follow the link, LOL)

... April 29, 2014 at 8:59 am

This whole thing is starting to look a little like a story arc in Dallas. Apparently Magic Johnson and his partners are now willing to take the Clippers off the hands of Sterling. The girlfriend hanging out with Johnson is one of the things that provoked the argument between Sterling and his girlfriend. Where’s Arsenio Hall when you need him?

Sterling is an embarrassment, and on many fronts.

For one thing, I’m waiting to hear about how a rich, Democratic Jew from Los Angeles needs to look down on blacks to make himself feel better – just like us poor Republican Southern white boys. In thought that wasn’t supposed to happen.

And I’m also waiting for Drew to explain to me that of COURSE Sterling is a great creator of wealth. Not everyone can buy a basketball team for $12,500,000 dollars, run it into the ground for decades (I believe they’ve got the worst record in the NBA since Sterling bought the team, though surely the Bobcats must be worse) and come out hundreds of millions of dollars ahead. Pure fucking economic and business genius on his part! It’s not like just anyone could have done that. (First they’d have had to been successful enough as a slumlord to come up with cash/financing for a $12.5M deal.) But this does put a the lie to the concept of great business acumen creating great wealth.

It’s an embarrassment for the NBA for reasons obvious and subtle (to the casual observer, at least). Of course it looks bad that one of their owners is a bigot. But David Stern was eager to build up the Clippers franchise to the point of personally engineering the trade that sent Chris Paul to the Clippers – and to Sterling.

It’s an embarrassment to the NAACP – for the awards they’ve given him and the awards he was set to receive, despite having a known shaky history even prior to this incident.

Unfortunately, it is embarrassing and enraging for the people that work on the Clippers organization. I hope the players and coaches can get their collective heads together and play good basketball again. It would be a shame if Sterling’s mouth cost the best team the Clippers have had the chance to show what they can do.

It’s embarrassing for Clippers fans because not only do they have the worst owner in current American pro sports, not only do they root for one of the classic doormat franchises in American sports history, but the guy is personally offensive too. (Not just for the racism.)

It’s embarrassing for the various business partners of the Clippers in particular and of Sterling more generally. Especially because, as mentioned above, this isn’t the first time Sterling has been in this kind of trouble.

It’s embarrassing for Sterling’s wife, because people reading the background on this are going to realize that she has been a knowing doormat for at least a decade. (This isn’t even Sterling’s first sex scandal as an old man, believe it or not.)

I’d say it’d be an embarrassment for Sterling, but he is clearly beyond shame. As clearly beyond shame as his girlfriend (who has illegally recorded something like 100 hours of conversations with Sterling, according to reports), her attorney, whoever is behind them, TMZ and the rest.

It’s ambarrassing for the President because he has a stronger opinion on Donald Fucking Sterling than he does on Russia tearing apart its neighbors. Not that I think we should be doing anything but what we’re doing, but the President is quick and ready and steady with this opinion about something ultimately trivial for the nation, and has no clue after years in office what to do about a rotten economy, or how to repair the international relations that he has wrecked, or anything else. The only other thing the President is as on top of is his annual bracket for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

And it’s also embarrassing for the nation as a whole because we’re clearly enjoying this.

Dave Schuler April 29, 2014 at 9:25 am

For one thing, I’m waiting to hear about how a rich, Democratic Jew from Los Angeles

Apparently, he’s a registered Republican who only (at least according to OpenSecrets.org) contributes to Democratic candidates. Sounds like his political party is Opportunist.

... April 29, 2014 at 9:39 am

You are who you support, and the most important source of support is money. Looks like Sterling is a cheapskate there, too.

Oh, another thing I’d like to know is this: One of the people explaining why Sterling had been given an NAACP award stated that Sterling often gave 2,000 or 3,000 tickets to Clippers games to poor children (presumably through some organization). It sounded like that might have been per game. (Presumably in the years when they stunk.)

Now first off, this could have been considered child abuse during most Clippers seasons, but maybe the kids got to see good teams like the Lakers, Bulls or Jazz, so that would be somewhat mitigating. (Again, the Clippers are UNCHARACTERISTICALLY good this season.)

Secondly, I would assume a good part of that would be to make the games look and sound better on TV – which could be important for advertizing. (Nothing as depressing as watching a game in an empty venue, even if you’re watching from home.)

But what only hit me this morning should have been the first thing I thought of: Did those count as charitable donations for either the Clippers, Sterling personally, or some other business interest of his? All of a sudden I’d like to see the tax returns of the relevant Sterling enterprises. I’d also like to know if any of the organizations that GOT the tickets somehow used them to create revenue for themselves, or more tax deductions. (Presumably tax deductions would not be an issue for non-profits, but who the Hell knows with this tax code?) I’m seeing a potential justification for an IRS reaming of Mr. Sterling and some of his associates. But I doubt anyone will go after the NAACP, the Urban League or anyone else who may have gotten the tickets. But if Sterling was using this as a tax dodge, even if legally, I’d like to know. Talk about loopholes only the rich can enjoy!

Dave Schuler April 29, 2014 at 9:47 am

Did those count as charitable donations for either the Clippers

It would depend on how they were donated. If he went out on the street corner and handed them out, they wouldn’t be. However, if he donated the tickets to Boys & Girls Clubs (for example) the value of the tickets could be deducted as a donation in kind.

It doesn’t really make a difference if they couldn’t sell them.

... April 29, 2014 at 9:59 am

Okay, a lot more suspicious of this story now. The two photos Sterling was most upset about were the ones with the GF and Magic Johnson, and the one’s with her and Matt Kemp, who plays for the Dodgers, who are owned by Magic Johnson and his partners.

And one of those partners/investors is none other than Michael Milken! Holy dog shit!

Plus, the Guggenheim deal is being pushed by some people because Magic Johnson is supposed to be cleansing. Now that is interesting. I like Magic Johnson, as he is a very likable guy. And he has been a smart businessman. But how many people did he give AIDS to? How many of those people died because they didn’t have the access to high-end experimental meds that he did? Shouldn’t there be at least some residual dirt on Magic, or does he get automatic immunity from any scrutiny for checking pretty much ALL the boxes for Modern American Nobility: Rich, charming, famous, athlete, black, AIDS victim, (maybe gay)? All he needs is the Kennedy name and another X chromosome and he’s the perfect image of American Nobility.

Anyway, associating with Milken is far worse a mark against one’s character than hanging out with some random gangsta rapper. My estimation of Magic just went down because of that.

... April 29, 2014 at 10:05 am

It doesn’t really make a difference if they couldn’t sell them.

If you mean they were losing money, I believe you are wrong. I’ll have to go digging later when I’m on hold with those bastards at Disney later, but I believe the Clippers have actually made money. TV makes even crappy franchises worth owning, especially if you don’t have any debt to service.* And if it is folded into a larger business enterprise, it could still be used to offset other profits elsewhere. (Depending on the corporate structure, of course. Consult your very expensive tax and corporate lawyers for certainty.) And Sterling bought cheap a long time ago, and paid cash if I recall correctly.

*Magic & company are raking local LA cable companies over the coal trying to get more money for the broadcast rights for the Dodgers. Buying that team (and related properties) cost them a lot of money, and they’re eager to extract revenue as quickly as possible. I think something like 70% of Angelenos no longer get Dodgers games as a result.

... April 29, 2014 at 10:10 am

Here’s another interesting note: Sterling is going to make more money off of being the worst owner in American sports over the last 35 years (a high bar to get over, as he is competing with the likes of Marge Schott and Hugh Culverhouse) than Mitt Romney made in his career as a wonder boy of capitalism. Possible by a multiple of three or four, depending on how much the Clips made in profit over the previous 33 years. I guess that means Sterling is a MUCH better creator of wealth and jobs than Romney ever was. All by running an operation with a few dozen employees on a shoestring budget that sucked at what they were supposed to do.

Come on, TELL me getting rich and getting ultra-rich are all about hard work, smarts and creating value! What complete bull shit the American Dream has turned out to be.

Dave Schuler April 29, 2014 at 10:18 am

If you mean they were losing money,

No, no. What I meant was that regardless of demand for tickets donations of tickets would still be valued at face value for purposes of deduction.

... April 29, 2014 at 10:35 am

Ah, sorry, I completely misunderstood.

... April 29, 2014 at 10:39 am

Finally, it is a strange racism when a Jewish guy is telling his half-black half-Mexican (if reports are to be believed, though she looks Fillipina and has at least five aliases) girlfriend that he’s okay if she’s sleeping with black athletes but he doesn’t want her bringing to the games.

jan April 29, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Out of the articles read and opinions given about the Sterling comments Kareem Adul Jabbar’s seems the fairest and most honestly expressed.

In an op-ed published in Time, Abdul-Jabbar explains that we’re witnessing a veritable “finger-wagging Olympics . . . all over the latest in a long line of rich white celebrities to come out of the racist closet.”

“Yes, I’m angry, too,” Abdul-Jabbar admits, “but not just about the sins of Donald Sterling. I’ve got a list.”

That list includes Sterling’s girlfriend, V. Stiviano, whose voice is heard on the racially-loaded tape and who likely set the Clippers’ owner up.

“Man, what a winding road she led him down to get all of that out,” he mocked. “She was like a sexy nanny playing ‘pin the fried chicken on the Sambo.’ She blindfolded him and spun him around until he was just blathering all sorts of incoherent racist sound bites that had the news media peeing themselves with glee.”

And speaking of the news media? “They caught big game on a slow news day,” Abdul-Jabbar explained, “so they put his head on a pike, dubbed him Lord of the Flies, and danced around him whooping.”

What should have alarmed people years ago was Sterling’s outrageous HUD violations and biased rental practices. He has been a blatant insufferable human being for most of his long life. However, as long as people were being given financial goodies by him, they took the money and zipped their lips. This includes the LATs, the NAACP, and a myriad of others who profited off of this offishly selfish, self-serving man over the years. To see the lid fly off of their indignation now, is pathetically superficial and dishonest.

TastyBits April 29, 2014 at 12:55 pm

It seems like there is something else going on here, and I doubt this story surfaced without a reason.

Jimbino April 29, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Strange country indeed, where your speech is censured if you’re a billionaire, but the likes of Jesse Jackson can say get off saying any damn thing.

... April 29, 2014 at 3:21 pm

So Sterling is banned for life, and they’re going to try and force the sale of the team to Magic Johnson and Michael Milken. It’s like that line in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”: “Look! One bastard goes in, and another bastard comes out!”

... April 29, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Schuler, you may enjoy this. Elsewhere on the interwebs, an anonymous commenter asked the following:

Is there a word for that feeling when you agree with a general story, in this case that Sterling is a clown and an ass, but find the overall sense of the coverage and reaction, especially the shallowness of the overall understanding, so off-putting that you’d almost rather see him win just to watch all the self righteous MLK impersonators’ heads explode?

And later someone supplied the punch line:

If there’s a word for this, it probably exists in German.

Andy April 29, 2014 at 6:18 pm

Ice,

I don’t have any sympathy for Sterling – what’s the worst that can happen to him? And really, you’ve got to be a pretty big douche to get kicked out of one of the richest cartels on the planet.

... April 29, 2014 at 6:30 pm

I don’t either, save that I don’t like the way this is being done. And I think the NBA should have fired him long ago. He’s just a horrible owner.

I also don’t like that way that suddenly it looks like Michael Fucking Milken is about to end up in the ownership group.

... April 29, 2014 at 6:31 pm

Seriously, was Ivan Boesky not available? Bernie Madoff?

Guarneri April 30, 2014 at 8:54 am

“What kind of freedom is it when you’re afraid to speak out for fear of loss of your livelihood, views that would have serious repercussions for someone of modest means have none for the wealthy, and there are different justices for the rich than for the poor?”

Please.

There’s a reason you don’t usually comment on this type of stuff. Its all garbage. Is he a dick? Sure. There are lots of dicks. Are the opportunists who are making hay on this dicks? Sure. They all knew.

But since we are on the NBA I’d like to call your attention to the passing this past Saturday of former NBA owner Mike Heisley. A difficult man. But a sad day. His players apparently loved him. I worked for him some 16-18 years ago. May he rest in peace.

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