Historic Statement of Values
Adam Silver, The National Basketball Association's new commissioner, instituted a historic lifetime ban, a $2.5 million fine to be donated to charity and a plan to have disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling forced to sell his team today at a press conference in New York. Racist statements attributed to Sterling previously released by TMZ and Deadspin were confirmed to be his, Silver announced at the solemn press conference. Commissioner Silver, also stated that Sterling has not yet expressed remorse. Silver further stated that Sterling's statements were "deeply disturbing and harmful" and left him "personally distraught". The Commissioner said that the process was to begin immediately and he stated he fully expected to get the other team owners' support in forcing Sterling to sell, which under league rules require a three quarter affirmation by the owners.
The tapes released late Friday featured damning, and surrealistically anachronistic, racist quotes made in a private conversation between the married Sterling and his biracial mistress, V. Stiviano, who is alleged to have gotten over $1.8 million from the billionaire during their affair. California Penal Code §632 makes it a crime to record private conversations without the consent of both parties.
DS: Well then, if you don't feel--don't come to my games. Don't bring black people, and don't come.
VS: Do you know that you have a whole team that's black, that plays for you?
DS: You just, do I know? I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Do I know that I have--Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners, that created the league?
DS: You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that ... and not to bring them to my games.
DS: I'm just saying, in your lousy f---king Instagrams [photos], you don't have to have yourself with, walking with black people.
DS: Don't put him [NBA Champion Magic Johnson] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games.
Culture Can Be Changed When People Stand Against Inequality
The NBA's reaction marks a historic, though necessary milestone in the history of both sports and race relations in America. The public condemnation of the painfully hurtful racist remarks was virtually universal, from the President on down, as was the immediate support of Silver's actions by players and California political leaders.
Aside from the fact that the NBA charter authorizes its commissioner "to protect the integrity of the game," there is something else at stake here. More than any other American sport, basketball is an international messenger of America and the values it represents. For young people everywhere, including the disadvantaged and people of color around the world, basketball courts, both figuratively and literally have been an accessible space where achievement, physical grace and sportspersonship can flourish.
Unlike authoritarian nations where sport is a demonstration of national chauvinism, American sport is supposed to be a demonstration of individual merit and the joy of teamwork that transcends race, gender, sexual orientation, and as Jim Abbott and our paralympians have demonstrated even disability. In addition to athletic competition, my boys have read Jim Abbott's story and have seen the film 42 to understand how the notion of character and fair play is integral not only to sport, but America itself. The values of hard work, character, achievement and equality have been demonstrated by our greatest champions from other sports like Muhammad Ali, Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson, and Billie Jean King.
A critical message that Commissioner Silver communicated today, was that basketball will continue to stand not just for sport, but for justice. When asked how he felt as a Jewish person about the horrendous remarks of a coreligionist, he said it offended him as a human being, first and foremost.
Mr. Sterling was wrong in his conclusion that injustice has a place in our culture:
DS: We don't evaluate what's right and wrong, we live in a society. We live in a culture. We have to live within that culture.
VS: But shouldn't we take a stand for what's wrong? And be the change and the difference?
DS: I don't want to change the culture, because I can't. It's too big ....I don't want to change.
As Commissioner Silver, and the wonderful players and coaches who he also serves proved this week, culture can be changed, when there are champions, on and off the court, big enough to suit up for the challenge. We can't eliminate every hurtful person in the world, but we can define our collective values as a sport and a nation when we, not the haters, have the last word. As for the owners, its now in their court to make a slam dunk for what is right. Maybe, once again, sport can transcend the field of play and serve as a springboard for the other myriad changes we need to make for a more tolerant and just society.
Follow Brian Levin, J.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/proflevin