Raise your hand if you’ve had enough of this guy already.
A month ago, unless you were a NBA fan, or a real estate groupie, you didn’t know who Donald Sterling was. Those of us who follow sports hate the kind of person Donald Sterling is: a spectacularly inept owner of a laughingstock of a franchise that often pleads poverty, yet laughs all the way to bank, thanks to the NBA’s lucrative revenue sharing program. Sterling’s Los Angeles Clippers were, for decades, the worst sports franchise around, thanks to his indifference. Why build a winning team when the NBA’s socialist-like share-the-wealth economics guarantees that even bad teams like the Clippers turn a hefty profit. The Clippers were a remote NBA outpost, where high draft picks turned into million-dollar busts (Michael Olowakandi, anyone?), and former All-Stars went to watch their careers slowly die. Meanwhile, across the street, the Los Angeles Lakers of Magic Johnson (more on him later) and Kareem Abdul-Jabber, and then Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, were one of the pillars of continued NBA excellence.
But then the Clippers got good. Real good, thanks to Chris Paul and Blake Griffith. All of which must have pissed Donald Sterling off. Because Sterling’s clearly the kind of owner who’s more concerned about his bottom line – as evidenced by all the years of the Clippers being the NBA’s Shittiest Franchise – than building a championship contender. Because all this winning means he’s going to have to pay the likes of Paul and Griffith (and quite possibly LeBron James, if those stupid rumors are to be believe, and they’re not) fat, long-term contracts. And Donald Sterling doesn’t like to pay fat, long-term contracts.
(All of this is moot right now, because he may not own the Clippers much longer, but let’s speculate, shall we?)
His parsimony, in spite of his billions, speaks volumes about him.
But he let his bigoted views, albeit viewed privately, say even more about him.
You’ve probably heard and read the racist nonsense that spewed from his mouth, from a conversation recorded by his then-girlfriend. Sterling managed to come across as a plantation owner (“I give these people money, clothes, cars…”), an expert on Instagram (“Stop posting so many damn pictures of you with blacks on Instagram!”) and a marketing genius (“I don’t want black people coming to Clippers games”) in the span of a privately-recorded conversation. Being the NBA is 95% African-American, of course NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had to act quickly and harshly: a lifetime banishment for Sterling, plus a $25 million fine. Some decry the punishment as too harsh, but if the punishment is too lenient, it sets a dangerous precident: the Clippers can forget ever attracting high-priced talent, or any talent, to their organization, and the loss of fans and revenue would be too much for that franchise to bear.
So would Sterling have learned his lesson? Of course not. Not as evidenced by his loathsome interview with Anderson Cooper the other night.
Sterling didn’t apologize – okay, he did say he “made a terrible mistake,” but that’s not the same thing as showing contrition – as much as he began throwing everyone under the bus. As if him spewing racist comments about black people was somehow his ex-girlfriend’s fault, or the NBA’s fault. Or worse, how he disparaged Magic Johnson in the most vile fashion possible. “Magic Johnson hasn’t done much for the black community. And you can’t trust him, he has AIDS.”
Sterling’s attack on Magic Johnson isn’t just vile and unfounded – because, after all, Magic Johnson has done a million times more for black-owned businesses than Donald Sterling has done, and he has HIV, not AIDS – it demonstrates the human inability to truly apologize for any wrongdoing. We’ve seen it happen all the time: a politician caught in a scandal, blaming his enemies or the media for being caught with hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribe money. A former child actor who blames his drug addiction on “bad parenting.” In our own lives, we’re quick to find a scapegoat for our sins, rather than own up to our wrongdoings.
I should know. I’ve been guilty of a lot of wrongdoings, and I spent a lot of time finding convenient excuses: addicitions, stress, anger, bad parenting. When my marriage was crumbling, I blamed everything around me for my affair and for my horrible behavior. It was only when I was at my lowest was when I came to the realization that being truly sorry for everything I did wrong meant acknowledging what I did was wrong, and I had no excuse for my behavior. And not just that, but accept the consequences and punishments for my wrongdoings. I had to show I was sorry, not just say it. I’ve spent the better part of the past two years successfully rebuilding my marriage, and demonstrating that I’m not just sorry for what I did, but that I will never do it again.
For me, personally, being able to say I’m sorry has the best thing that could happen to me. I hesitate to use language like “it’s cleansed my soul,” but it’s given me a peace of mind I don’t think I’ve ever really had. It’s allowed me to resolve guilt, the guilt which unnecessarily fueled more destructive behavior.
I realize saying you’re sorry is something a lot of people have a very difficult time doing. For some, it’s a matter of vulnerability. For the likes of politicians or actors or Donald Sterling, it’s a toxic combination of arrogance and denial. You’re beyond reproach. So what if you got caught? You don’t get punished, because punishment is for little people.
As it stands, when Sterling is forced to sell the Clippers – not if, but when – the $15 million investment he made back in 1980 (when the Clippers toiled in San Diego) will net him a profit close to $500 million. As a businessman, he’d see the potential in making nearly a half-billion dollar profit, and ask, “Where do I sign?” because, after all, anything’s for sale, depending on the size of the check. But in Donald Sterling’s perverse world, he’s making a principled stand against those who have wrong him: his snitch of an ex-girlfriend, the NBA, commissioner Adam Silver, Magic Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, the NAACP, and Robert E. Lee, just to name a few.
Sterling’s shown he’s not going down without a fight, because losing his cash cow is his punishment. So the NBA will now brace itself for a fight. A needless, ugly fight. And he’s not sorry. Not one damned bit.