Blake Griffin

Donald Sterling pulls a Chris Culliver

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Donald Sterling’s a racist — pass it around!

If you didn’t know Sterling was a vile piece of bigoted human filth, you haven’t been paying attention. “Black tenants smell and attract vermin.” That’s something Donald Sterling allegedly uttered as one of the reasons why he discrimated against tenants based on race. Sterling, who made his fortune in real estate, was ordered to pay a $2.73 million in 2005 to settle the allegations that he discriminated against Hispanics, African-Americans and families with children. 

There have been many other suits, including an employment discrimination case brought by Elgin Baylor, the former Clippers general manager. That suit is where the “vermin” comment came to light. 

It was easier for the NBA to brush this under the rug when Sterling’s team was a joke. Bad team, bad owner — it was almost comical juxtaposed against the Lakers’ wild success in the same city. Now the Clippers are one of the five best teams in the Association and on the verge of putting the Warriors away. But these are the Clippers, and TMZ gathered some more evidence of Sterling’s racist ways via a recorded conversation with his girlfriend after the posted a photo of herself with Magic Johnson on Instagram.

From TMZ:

Sterling rails on Stiviano — who ironically is black and Mexican — for putting herself out in public with a black person (she has since taken the pic down). But it doesn’t end there. You have to listen to the audio to fully grasp the magnitude of Sterling’s racist worldview. Among the comments:

— “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” (3:30)

— “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.” (5:15)

— “I’m just saying, in your lousy f******* Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people.” (7:45)

— “…Don’t put him [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. (9:13)

One could argue that Clippers players should’ve known what they were getting into when they accepted their first paycheck with Sterling’s signature, but most of the team wasn’t in the NBA when the housing discrimination case was settled. Plus, that’s from the world that’s detached from the NBA. But if Sterling feels this way about an icon like Magic, how are any of the team’s black players (which make up, oh, about 80% of the team’s rotation) supposed to feel good about playing for this guy?

DeAndre Jordan clearly doesn’t, as he showed with a “blackout” post on his Instagram profile that’s similar to the statements millions made on social media as a sign of support for the late Trayvon Martin.

I saw firsthand how Chris Culliver’s anti-gay comments distracted the San Francisco 49ers before Super Bowl 47. On the morning after what he said to Artie Lange went viral, the pall that was cast over the hotel banquet room where the players and coaches waited for the inevitable questions from reporters was real, not media narrative. After watching a game that close, in which Culliver played that poorly, I’m nearly certain that the 49ers would’ve won if Culliver’s comments hadn’t became a nationwide controversy. I didn’t think Culliver’s stupidity would affect the 49ers on the field leading up to the game, but after processing what I saw on the day he “apologized” and what happened during the Super Bowl, I can’t shake the feeling that players aren’t robots who can compartmentalize everything — especially not with athletes consuming all the same media we are.

Just to set the record straight: I’m not conflating Sterling’s history and comments with Culliver’s. However, their teams are in similar situations (although the Clippers still have a lot of work to do to get to the NBA Finals).

Sterling obviously doesn’t start for the Clippers, but players have to be extremely upset over the comments alone, let alone the timing. Players play for themselves, each other and even their coaches before worrying about the owner’s mindset, and there’s no professional benefit to playing poorly on purpose when the stakes are so high. But after a wobbly start in Game 1, the Clippers seemed to be picking up steam and taking on the look of a title contender. Warriors fans hear about the great chemistry in Golden State’s locker room; I heard that after Thursday’s game several Clippers (including Jordan, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Hedo Turkoglu) ate at NoPa, a restaurant in my neighborhood. This is an impressive team in all aspects, and now they’re faced with the kind of challenge they never could’ve anticipated.

In the grand scheme of things, the recent TMZ hubbub is far less severe than other Sterling transgressions. But does that matter? Audio showing Sterling as a man who doesn’t want his girlfriend to even associate with black people is more powerful today than allegations and settlements that occurred years ago. The Clippers may have talked to each other about Sterling’s checkered past at different times over the years, but they weren’t worried about him during this series.

Until last night.

Now they have to maintain focus on the task at hand, and the man in charge of keeping the team on course is Doc Rivers. Rivers surely has dealt with his fair share of racist nonsense since becoming a head coach (he coached in Boston, after all), and he’s in the first of a multiyear deal he signed to work for Sterling. His job is to win, and he’ll have to acknowledge the ugliness of their boss while convincing the team to block out all the noise.

Talent rules the day, and the Clippers clearly hold the edge there. Jordan and his teammates could very well take out their anger on the Warriors. But these two teams have shown that, save for Game 2, they’re a pretty good match. If this story keeps rolling through the week — and it certainly seems likely that it will — Sterling end up surprising us all by sabotaging a team that appeared so good that even he couldn’t screw it up.

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