There’s something in the Donald Sterling saga for almost everyone, though the NBA, by imposing something just short of capital punishment, has put the race hustlers on the sidelines.
Al Sharpton, whose riots sometimes kill people, briefly threatened demonstrations, but quick action by the basketball league left him with nobody to demonstrate against. Jesse Jackson, a little long in the tooth and wide in the belly, showed up at a Clippers game and looked like a man who had to buy a ticket to get into the arena.
But it’s a fiesta for everyone but Mr. Sterling, rendered by a lovers’ quarrel (if you can call it love) and ugly words spoken in anger, to become the most reviled man in the world.
Oprah and Spike Lee and Magic Johnson were beside themselves with righteous anger early in the week, demanding, well, it was not clear exactly what. Apologies? Regrets? Repentance? Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, trumped all that, fining the Clippers owner $2.5 million, organizing a forced sale of the team (at fire-sale prices) and banning Mr. Sterling “forever” from every NBA arena, though forever is not always forever.
The sports pages exploded with dander and dudgeon, both high and low. One typically overwrought columnist sentenced Mr. Sterling to go down “as the most despised person ever.”
Well, at least until history throws up another Pontius Pilate, Genghis Khan or Joe Stalin. The man does, in fact, sound like somebody you wouldn’t want your great-grandmother to marry. The things he said to his mistress — ex-mistress now, you can bet — were mean and low enough to wrinkle the sheets of the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. But hype and holler always fade and grow stale. What else is there left to say about the eighty-something Mr. Sterling and his thirty-something inamorata and their mutual-provocation society?
Some people we all know would end such an argument with a well-aimed lamp, but some people communicate better than others. If your wayward doxy is a good half-century younger, your vocabulary is just not rich enough to say things mean enough about the man, black or white, she takes a selfie with.
“Moral outrage is exhausting,” observes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the former NBA great, for Time magazine. “And dangerous. The whole country has gotten a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome from the newest sport of Extreme Finger Wagging.” He’s as outraged as everyone else by the old guy, but professes a grudging admiration for V. Stiviano, who was a waitress before she met Mr. Sterling and had to settle for an initial instead of a name. “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 racist sound bites that had the news media peeing all over themselves with glee.”
Ruth Marcus was outraged in The Washington Post, but warned her readers not to forget that he “done the woman wrong” first. “Race is, hands down, the most repulsive aspect of the Donald Sterling scandal,” she writes, “but sex is a close second.” The Sterling-Stiviano deal appears to involve a transaction as old as time.” Cosmo Girl meets B.O. Plenty. (You could look it up.)
This was no match made by Christianmingle.com. They met at the Super Bowl and four years, a Ferrari, two Bentleys, a Range Rover, a $1.8 million house and $240,000 in “living expenses” later, Cupid bit them both, though perhaps in different places. Not since Marion Barry cried “the bitch set me up” has such a powerful man paid such a price. (What’s love got to do with it?)
The only penalties for what Mr. Sterling said, in a private conversation in his own home, can rightly be exacted by the NBA. He agreed when he bought the Clippers to accept the discipline of the league. He’s entitled to his opinions, but he’s not entitled to damage the league he owns with others.
But it’s important to remember that the government has no dog in this fight. He’s entitled to think what he wants and say what he wants, however vile, and take the moral consequences, which are severe. The government has nothing to say about that. The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech, even low, hurtful and hateful speech.
Nevertheless, we can expect the lawyers to take center stage soon. An angry wife is in hot pursuit of his assets already, and others, no doubt including the sweetie, are busy lining up lawyers. Mr. Sterling lives to sue, too, and can afford expensive lawyers. Some of the other owners are said to have closets full of skeletons, eager for their invitations to the dance.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.