The NBA’s racism drama is more about money than morals
By Christopher Caldwell
... Anyone who listens to the nine-minute TMZ recording after having read the press accounts will be a bit confused. Offensive the audio is. But “hateful” is too strong a word, especially for those Americans who remember the late Cincinnati Reds baseball owner Marge Schott, who was censured in the 1990s for saying Adolf Hitler “was good in the beginning” but then “went too far”. This new recording, by contrast, captures a pathetic intimate quarrel between Mr Sterling and a 31-year-old woman, V Stiviano. Something is upsetting Mr Sterling very much, but it is not black people – at least not primarily. It is the Molière-esque predicament of an 80-year-old man with a young companion he cannot control.
There we go. That's who I was trying to think of along with Chaucer and comic operas: Molière. Caldwell has always been much more cultured than me. I recall a long discussion with him while he was copyediting a piece of mine in The American Spectator in 1992 over the proper pronunciation of "Nabokov."
Ms Stiviano posted photos of herself on Instagram with two black athletes many decades his junior. Some of his characterisations are racist. (“Why should you be walking publicly with black people?”) But what makes the audio bizarre is that, when race enters the conversation it is she, not he, who introduces it.
Ms Stiviano, who is of Mexican and black ancestry, says at one point: “I wish I could change the colour of my skin.”
“You miss the issue.”
“What’s the issue?”
“The issue is we don’t have to broadcast everything.”
Later Ms Stiviano asks: “What would you like me to do? Remove the skin colour out of my skin?”
Mr Sterling replies: “Is that a for-real issue or are you making something up? . . . There’s nothing wrong with you or your skin colour. Why are you saying these things? To upset me?”
Go listen to the audio. There is something stilted, oratorical and manipulative about almost everything Ms Stiviano says. One would not want to lean too heavily on it in a courtroom.
... It is going to be hard for the NBA to discipline Mr Sterling without establishing principles of draconian justice that will ramify inconveniently for other personalities in the league. This includes many athletes and owners now calling for Mr Sterling’s head. Last year Tony Parker, the French guard for the San Antonio Spurs, made a quenelle salute, created and popularised by the French comedian Dieudonné. The quenelle has become beloved of Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites, some of whom have been filmed making the gesture outside concentration camps, Holocaust memorials and synagogues. Is there a place for Parker in the NBA?
Parker has a black father (and a French mother), so the answer is: yes.