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EDITORIAL: NBA’s Sterling hypocrisy on racism

It isn’t limited to the owner of the Clippers

- - Friday, May 2, 2014

As with Mark Antony in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," everyone has come to bury Donald Sterling, not to praise him. Not that the octogenarian owner of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers is in any way praiseworthy, but amid the universal condemnation of his racist remarks, it would be useful for those shoveling the dirt to step back from the grave for a little perspective.

The NBA commissioner fined the billionaire team owner $2.5 million, banned him for life and ordered him to sell the team because he said something stupid and hateful. But is the indignation over his remark selective?

Mr. Sterling told a gold-digging paramour that he would rather not see her out and about with black people. Is that any more racist than rapper-turned-sports agent Jay-Z, a former part-owner of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets franchise, wearing a medallion with a controversial symbol associated with the Five Percent Nation? An offshoot of the Nation of Islam, the Five Percent Nation holds that white people are "weak, wicked and inferior" to black men. The Five Percent Nation is also misogynist, believing women are inferior to men. It's not clear how Beyonce feels about that.

Jay-Z, who sold his stake in the Nets when he became a sports agent and who now represents several NBA stars, was photographed wearing the medallion at a Nets game in late March, but no one has suggested he be banned for life from the NBA.

Movie director Spike Lee likened Mr. Sterling to a plantation slavemaster and said that the Clippers owner should have the team taken away from him even before the league's commissioner ordered him to sell. Mr. Lee, who can be seen regularly courtside at New York Knicks games, was in the front row at NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's announcement of Mr. Sterling's punishment.

Mr. Lee hosts a biweekly "NBA Radio" show on SiriusXM satellite radio. He stirred controversy when he posted online the address of George Zimmerman's parents, fanning the flames of racial tensions after the death of Trayvon Martin. In late February he unleashed an "F-bomb"-laced tirade against white gentrification of black neighborhoods in New York. He also indicated he shares Mr. Sterling's distaste for interracial dating.

Beyond remarks on race, loutish behavior frequently goes unpunished by the league as its players give in to the temptations of fame and fortune. Insiders claim drug use is rampant and that the NBA's testing regime isn't enough to stop it.

None of this is to suggest that Mr. Sterling's comments are acceptable. Rather, if the NBA is going to dish out severe punishment for bad behavior to anyone associated with basketball, it needs to be evenhanded about it, condemning all racism, not just some of it.