Meet the Slippery Slope

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Some very interesting angles have been taken by various media members in the wake of the Donald Sterling lifetime banishment from the NBA.

I’ll even admit, a few of these angles have surprised me. For starters, social progressive Dan Lebetard struck a very skeptical note that Silver’s move was anything much more than a simple PR-layup.

I’m more interested, now that some of the noise has diluted and this volcano lava is merely gurgling, in examining how the hell we got to a place so loud and disorienting that a bunch of rich, powerful men just took the unprecedented punitive action of setting the precedent that allows them all to lose their teams over pillow talk taped in private. That’s fairly amazing, and seems to speak to the strength of the loud and angry mob in matters of public relations. But understand something:

This only could have happened to Sterling. I don’t mean he’s the only racist. I don’t even mean he’s the only one who’d be dumb enough to say these things out loud or have them taped. I mean that if any other NBA owner had been in the middle of exactly this same scandal, but without Sterling’s past or Sterling’s lack of support within the group, not a one of them would have lost his team over it. Not one.

Sterling’s ban was kind of a Lifetime Achievement Award for Racism.

Meanwhile, Jason Whitlock has a more predictable take, given that he’s now become “Mr. Against the Grain”. 

On Tuesday, just 72 hours after the release of Sterling’s Pillow Talk Tapes by TMZ, a rookie commissioner imposed a lifetime ban on a flawed man whose rights were violated.

Mob rule is dangerous. Well-intentioned, TV-baited mobs are the most dangerous. They do not consider the consequences of their actions, and they’re prone to take a simple-minded, instant-gratification approach to justice rather than a strategic one.

Removing Donald Sterling from the NBA solves nothing. It sets a precedent that will likely boomerang and harm the black players and coaches who are shocked and outraged that an 80-year-old man with a documented history of bigoted actions also has bigoted private thoughts.

Let’s be careful here. From the owner’s box to the locker room, professional sports are overrun with wealthy men in complicated, volatile sexual relationships. If TMZ plans to make “pillow talk” public and the standard is set that “pillow talk” is actionable, it won’t be long before a parade of athletes joins Sterling on Ignorance Island.

Whitlock pivots his take into a boilerplate lament on so-called “white privilege” yet without any real remedy suggested – other than all-white rallies and white “town hall” conversations on the subject.

Jason is barking here at a locked shed he doesn’t want to open.

By my count former NBA players, Scottie Pippen ($122 million), Antoine Walker ($110 million) and Latrell Sprewell ($96 million) could have saved just HALF of their lifetime NBA earnings and bought their own team by now with a few additional investors.

Instead they all went BANKRUPT by… buying their own lear jet…. writing fraudulent checks to Vegas casinos…. or buying a $1.5 million yacht while turning down a guaranteed $21 million deal because you claim “you have a family to feed.” (Still, my all-time favorite.)

I’m not even throwing in the financial malfeasance of Allen Iverson here, just to make it fair. Nor will I point out that 60 percent of the 80 percent black NBA players go BROKE within 5 years of retirement. (Oops, did I just mention that?)

Five years.

Look, “good ol’ boy” networks DO exist, in sports, and life. And many of them are white. But some of them are black too. Witness the fact that Jalen Rose’s star couldn’t be brighter at ESPN, despite proudly calling Duke players “Uncle Tom’s” and serving 16 days in jail for drunk driving.

White privilege? White?

In other words, ESPN deemed there was NO other black ex-NBA player WITHOUT a criminal record and/or a penchant for light racial stereotyping available to serve as a studio analyst?

Find me a specific and genuine example of “white privilege” first Whitlock, and dig into that. The NBA does not suffer from this. Period.

Then there’s Bill Simmons, a known Clippers season ticket holder since fleeing Boston for LA. I like Bill, and respect the living hell out of the empire he’s built. More power to him.

That said, when I saw his Grantland take on the controversy, I was perhaps hoping for something more juicy. More emotional. He need not apologize for having season tickets to Donald Sterling’s dysfunctional team. But a little bit of Chris Farley-esque “I’m so STUPID” self-flagellation might have been fun.

Instead… all we get is a weird anecdote where Simmons was sitting next to Sterling in first class one time, and apparently didn’t have the stones to introduce himself and strike up a conversation.

Odd. I thought Simmons would have felt confident enough to do more than just listen like a timid kid in the back seat of the car. But I guess not.

Nearly one year ago, I flew from Los Angeles to San Antonio for the Western Conference finals. Because we were traveling for television duties, I happened to be sitting in first class, in an aisle seat, one row behind the immortal Donald Sterling. This wasn’t a big plane — not quite a puddle jumper, but the next level up. Low roof, tight aisle, little baggage space, tiny windows. One of those planes where it feels like everyone is on top of each other. So I felt like I won the sports columnist lottery. One row behind Sterling? This would write itself!

The man delivered almost immediately. He didn’t want to sit in the first row and he didn’t want to sit in a window seat. Donald Sterling wanted to switch seats. Like, right now. He asked the flight attendant to move him. She politely declined. He quickly pulled the “Whaddya mean I can’t switch seats?” routine. The man sitting to my right jumped up, hopped into the aisle and loudly conferred with Sterling. He glanced at me, then at Sterling, then back to me again. Was this his bodyguard? His handler? I couldn’t tell.

“Hey,” he asked me. “Would you mind switching seats with him?”

I could barely conceal my excitement. This was great. Someone was asking me to do a favor for Donald Sterling.

“I like the aisle,” I told Sterling’s guy. “I’m gonna stay here.”

The guy grimaced, ultimately squeezing past me and cramming into his window seat. His name was Mo. I couldn’t tell if he was angry at me or Sterling, but the possibility of Mo stabbing me in the neck with a pencil was suddenly in play. Meanwhile, Sterling was already laying into his second flight attendant about being stuck in a window seat. There was a distinctive, gravelly whine to his voice, no different from what you heard on those audio tapes. He wasn’t overtly hostile, more disappointed and confused. He couldn’t believe that SHE wouldn’t help HIM. Reading between the lines, you could practically hear it in his voice:

Don’t you know who I am? I’m Donald Sterling! You’re making a big mistake! I AM A VERY IMPORTANT MAN!

Sterling’s female assistant stood in the aisle, navigating the situation with the same pleading, semi-terrified look that parents have when their child might melt down in public. (Believe me, I know that look.) The poor flight attendant found herself apologizing profusely, like this was all her fault. I’m sorry, I really am … we don’t have another aisle seat. We hadn’t even taken off yet and Sterling was wearing down both flight attendants. Was this what it was like to work for him? Would he just be complaining constantly about the temperature of sodas, the lady who cleaned his office, the point guard they just signed … would it just never end?

If it was ME as Bill Simmons, I’d have politely introduced myself as both Bill Simmons (do you know who I AM?) and a season ticket holder. Then graciously offer to switch seats with Sterling, but with the caveat that I’d like to sit next to you, “because I share the same passion for the team as you do.”

Oh well. Next flight up in first class, I suppose.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Steve,

    Thank you for dressing down Jason Whitlock’s ill-conceived take on so-called “white privilege”. I used to attempt to read his sophomoric articles in the Kansas City Star without either grimacing in disgust or chortling with amusement as he often would make an argument about race (his favorite topic) and his insistence that his high school chum, no other than Jeff George (a draft bust that was arguably a better player than one Ryan Leaf) could still play in the NFL, and chastised the Chiefs for not trading for him.

    If Jason is going to lecture us on bigotry, perhaps someone should remind him of his offensive tweet to Jeremy Lin, concerning the stereotype that all Asian men have small junk.

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