The playoffs are arguably the best part of every season no matter what sport you are playing or watching. There is nothing that can quite match the intensity of giving all you’ve got for that game or match, and then having to do it all over again the next night or the next week. Within the past week, amid playoff basketball and some of the best games any fan has seen all year, basketball has taken a backseat.
You would expect to hear about a superstar’s dazzling performance or the underdog winning a game on the road. However, racism has been the topic of conversation of pretty much everyone involved with the NBA, from owners to players to commentators to fans. Racism.
Of the four major U.S. sports, basketball has the highest percentage of African-American players at 78 percent. More than three-quarters of all the players in the NBA are African-American. Make sure you can wrap your head around that.
Though it may not be surprising that 78% of all NBA players are African-American, this stat might: of the 30 NBA teams, only one team has an African-American majority owner, and that is Michael Jordan, arguably the most famous basketball player to ever play the game.
But this isn’t about Michael Jordan, or about what one player said to another; it’s about Los Angeles Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling and what he said to his girlfriend. Sterling, first reported by TMZ, reprimanded his girlfriend for posting a picture on Instagram of her with Magic Johnson. Sterling said that she shouldn’t be “broadcast[ing]” that she was “associating with black people.”
“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.”
As you can probably tell, this hasn’t gone over well with the NBA or its affiliates. The NBA and its new Commissioner Adam Silver are investigating these, and many other, racist remarks reportedly made by Sterling. The Clipper players, in the midst of a huge playoff series against the Golden State Warriors, staged a silent protest by removing their warm-up shirts bearing the team logo and wearing their practice jerseys inside out, hiding the Clipper insignia.
Many other notable people associated with the NBA including three NBA legends, also voiced their opinions.
Jordan, who I spoke up earlier, said “As an owner, I’m obviously disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views. … As a former player, I’m completely outraged. There is no room in the NBA – or anywhere else – for the kind of racism and hatred that Mr. Sterling allegedly expressed.”
All-time scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was a Clippers special assistant coach in 2000, told CNN: “I know him. I know his voice. I am not surprised by this very much.” Though he said he never heard any racist words from Sterling, he admits that the recording shows a “repugnant attitude for someone to have, and for him to be an employer for so many people of color, it kind of blows your mind.”
Johnson went on to say that “He shouldn’t own a team any more. And he should stand up and say, ‘I don’t want to own a team any more.’”
The recording of the alleged conversation between Sterling and his girlfriend goes on, for approximately an hour. The woman on the tape, assumed to be his girlfriend, shares that she is of mixed race, and reminds him that most of his team’s players are African-American.
“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? … I’ve known (Magic) well and he should be admired. … I’m just saying that it’s too bad you can’t admire him privately. Admire him, bring him here, feed him, f**k him, but don’t put (Magic) on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.”
Even President Obama weighed in. “When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk. That’s what happened here.”
Clearly, this is bad. There is no room for that kind of blatant racism in the world we live in. However, we have seen a different form of racism take place in popular sports, especially football.
Pitts and Yost (2012) highlight racial position segregation in college football, saying that African-American high school quarterbacks are among those more likely to change positions in college than their white counterparts. African-American quarterbacks who enter college are often switched to more athletic positions like wide receiver or defensive back, mostly because of their superior athletic ability.
Although racial stacking is not as obvious of a display of racism as Sterling’s comments are, both are unacceptable. The fact that Sterling owns an NBA team where four of its starting five players are African-American, and 78% of the league is African-American, makes this situation exponentially worse.
I don’t see any situation where Sterling gets out of this without some kind of repercussion. Sterling bought the Clippers in 1981 for $12.5 million. The Sacramento Kings just sold this past year for $535 million. Maybe he should take Magic’s advice and get out while he can.