RACISM PAYS. That’s the stinging truth of the Donald Sterling debacle.
The embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner was fined $2.5 million, banned from the NBA for life, and subjected to a forced sale of his team after his racist remarks to then-girlfriend, V. Stiviano, were made public by TMZ. But Sterling, who on Friday announced he was suing the NBA for $1 billion over the forced sale, may yet come out on top.
If the $2 billion sale of the Clippers goes through, Shelly Sterling will have the money she needs to recover from her husband’s philandering, and Donald Sterling will end up benefitting from the deal of a lifetime.
Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s bid to buy the Los Angeles Clippers for a record $2 billion has been approved by the NBA. The deal was negotiated by Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, who initially appeared to be the scorned woman in all this. If the sale goes through, Shelly Sterling will have the money she needs to recover from her husband’s philandering and Donald Sterling will end up benefitting from the deal of a lifetime.
Sterling paid $12 million for the team in 1981. If and when the sale is completed, his profits before taxes would be $1.88 billion. Not bad for a guy who has spent much of the last decade being sued for racist behavior.
Racism and Donald Sterling
In 2003, tenants in the Sterlings’ Los Angeles apartments filed a federal discrimination lawsuit that was settled for an undisclosed amount in 2005. A Justice Department discrimination suit was settled for $2.725 million in 2009. Former Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor sued Sterling alleging race and age discrimination in 2009, saying, in part, that Sterling has a “vision of a Southern plantation type structure” for the Clippers.
Baylor eventually dropped the racism accusations from his lawsuit, and a Los Angeles jury ruled in Sterling’s favor in 2011. Given what we now know about Sterling’s history of racial bias, I wonder what that jury would say now.
Could a jury find for Sterling after listening to remarks like the statement Sterling made to then-girlfriend V. Stivano?
“I’m just saying, in your lousy f—ing Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people,” Sterling told Stiviano in reference to an Instagram photo she posted with NBA legend Magic Johnson. He later added, “… Admire him, bring him here, feed him, f–k him, I don’t care. You can do anything. But don’t put him on Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games. Okay?”
Could a jury find for Sterling after he gave a bizarre CNN interview in which he doubled down on his racist remarks? Could a jury find for Sterling after years of racist behavior culminated with the tape that forced Commissioner Adam Silver to boot Sterling from the league?
Sadly, I think the answer is yes, because our society values money over racial equality. Donald Sterling knows this, and that’s why his lawsuit protesting the forced sale of his team focuses on property rather than people.
Donald Sterling and legal smokescreens
Sterling’s lawsuit claims, in part, that the NBA move to terminate his ownership “is unconstitutional, in breach of contract, in restraint of trade, in breach of fiduciary duties and … is malicious and oppressive.”
The lawsuit also says the forced sale would create damages of at least $1 billion in capital gains taxes, fees, legal costs, and the loss of value for the Los Angeles Clippers franchise.
There is no scenario in which Donald Sterling will be financially hurt by the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers. The $2 billion sale price is more than 166 times what he paid for the team, so Donald Sterling will not be begging on a street corner after the Clippers are sold.
There are two main problems with Sterling’s claims. The first is a May 20 letter to the NBA in which Sterling authorized his estranged wife to sell the team. The other problem, the laughable problem, is Sterling’s claim that he would suffer financial harm from the sale of the team.
There is no scenario in which Donald Sterling will be financially hurt by the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers. The $2 billion sale price is more than 166 times what he paid for the team, so Donald Sterling will not be begging on a street corner after the Clippers are sold. He and his estranged wife will be doing quite well, and Sterling knows it.
The lawsuit, I suspect, is just a smokescreen. It is a tactic that Sterling has always employed when faced with the repercussions of his racism. He is not fighting to win back control of the team. He is fighting to get the best financial result for himself.
I know there were those who wanted Sterling’s blatant racism to be punished, but in the end, Sterling’s long record of bigotry will not earn him retribution. It will earn him more profit than any owner has ever made from the sale of an NBA team.
That doesn’t seem like much of a punishment to me.
Featured photo: Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling watches the Clippers play the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles on Monday, Dec. 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
Solomon Jones is an Essence bestselling author and award-winning columnist. He is the creator and editor of Solomonjones.com. Click here to learn more about Solomon