The conventional wisdom is that former Microsoft tycoon Steve Ballmer agreeing to pay the ridiculous, wildly over-priced price for the L.A. Clippers is a small price to pay to get rid of Donald Sterling, a racist embarrassment to L.A., the fans and the NBA. The brutal truth though is far different. Sterling, and wife Shelly, made out far better than any bandit could hope to in their wildest dreams with the announced sale of the team. Worse, the sale price sent the horrid message that bigotry can have its own rewards. The Sterlings in essence cashed in on his well-documented and her almost as well-documented bigotry the same way that undeserving corporate CEOs receive gargantuan shove out the door paychecks after they send their firm's stock price plunging, watched as sales nose-dived, and made a wreck of management.
The CEOs in the financial industry and the heads of the big banks like Lehman, Bear Stearns, and Merrill Lynch, and the insurer AIG are the best known. Their reward for mangling, or worse, looting their companies and ramming them to the brink of bankruptcy, and threatening to crash the economy in the process was to skip away with hundreds of millions of dollars in their wallets. The largesse from the corporate boards to get rid of their embarrassing and incompetent, legally dubious, executive baggage does not come without another price. The obscene payout to them hammers shareholders, pension funds, individuals with 401(k) retirement accounts, and, worst of all, taxpayers, who directly or indirectly foot the bill for the government bailouts to insure insolvency and re-boast profits of the dis-shelved companies.
The Clippers are a near textbook example of how its owner can be a racist, his business can be flawed and failed, and he and it can still prosper and thrive. Since he bought the then San Diego Clippers in 1981, he instantly became embedded in the NBA structure. Despite a half-hearted effort by NBA officials to get rid of him in the early days of his ownership for questionable practices, by dint of his longevity and a team ownership structure that confers unassailable, emperor-like powers on those who own the teams he continued to reap financial rewards.
Sterling was smug in the assurance that no matter how outrageous, bigoted, and sleazy his antics he would be assured a big pay day if the day ever came he'd have to bail out of team ownership. This was not guesswork. Before his racist rant, the low-side estimate on the Clippers' value on an open-market sale was $575 million. The high side was $700 million. The truth was that no one really knew what the franchise would ultimately go for. This was Sterling's one big trump card. He could set any price he wanted as long as the market would bear it. It would take a well-heeled knot of investors to plop down the kind of cash needed for the purchase of the team. In this case, it only took one willing and able multi-billionaire to shell out the eye-popping amount for the team. Sterling did a deft legal pirouette to further ensure that he'd get everything he wanted and maybe even more when he authorized his wife to sell the team on his behalf, including his 50 percent share.
But even after the announcement of the pending sale at the ultra-luxury price, Sterling had one more trump card to play. He squealed loudly that as the principal owner, he can veto the sale, and punctuated that with his own lengthy manifesto on why the NBA's action against him was illegal, unconstitutional, and presumably un-American. This is all so much smoke blowing. The sale or a sale of the Clippers will go through not because there's any question about Sterling's mental competence. Or that he could take a colossal tax hit on the sale. The sale price is just too juicy.
Sterling will continue to rank for a time as America's number one sports pariah; he will continue to draw the wrath of the fans, the NBA establishment, and much of the media whenever his name is mentioned. But that's less important than that the inflated sell price is proof once more that wealthy and powerful white guys can say and do almost anything they like. They are secure that on the infrequent occasions that their nefarious words and deeds smack them in the rear end and draws public outrage, the price they pay may hurt their name and reputation and image, but it won't hurt their pocket book. In Sterling's case, it can be said, he was richly reward to the tune of $2 billion for being a bigot.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.