Sparks, Magic, racism and basketball

Jennie McNulty columnBY JENNIE MCNULTY

There’s a story out here in LA that’s pretty big right now and, believe it or not, it does not involve a Kardashian. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It involves Magic Johnson and buying a basketball team. That’s right, Magic and his business partners now own the LA Sparks, Los Angeles’ WNBA team.

Oh, yeah, and the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, was heard on tape saying he didn’t want his 31-year-old girlfriend, “silly rabbit,” being photographed or seen with Magic Johnson (or any other black person) in public. “And, don’t bring him to my games.”

“Silly rabbit” is what Xena Princess Whorier calls herself, according to her interview with Barbara Walters. “His mistress” is what most of the news media is calling her and “defendant” is what Sterling’s wife, Shelly, is calling her in a lawsuit aimed at reclaiming $1.8 million in joint property that Sterling has given to the 31-year-old confidante / advisor / “right-arm hand” (again her words). Her mother actually called her Maria Vanessa Perez, but the Rabbit changed that (and I think some other parts) somewhere between being arrested for petty theft (twice) and potentially taking down the longest tenured owner of any NBA team. Regardless of what you call her, she has made a name for herself. She will undoubtedly, through one source or another, make a great deal of money with this situation. Plus she has stirred up one heck of a controversy.

Donald Sterling’s remarks were horrifying. They would be horrifying if he were the local paperboy much less a billionaire real estate mogul, NBA team owner and employer of hundreds of people. And, not only horrifying, but hugely hypocritical considering the fact that most of the men currently making him money are black (and his alleged mistress is half black). The NBA is punishing him. He is being banned from the team and the NBA for life. He’s being fined $2.5 million and they are attempting to force him to sell the team.

He hasn’t said much, but most sources familiar with him feel Sterling, a lawyer with an aggressively litigious past, will fight the forced sale. He’s been sued for racist behavior in and out of the NBA before and won or settled out of court. And, well, he’s a jerk, so yes, he’s gonna fight the sale.

I can’t say I was shocked when I heard what was said on those tapes. Sadly, I know there are people who feel the same way as Sterling. When the United States elected an African American president it didn’t really signal the end to the racist chapter of America’s history as some people seem to think. We need to stay diligent to ensure ALL Americans are treated equally. And, when people who think like this run businesses and have power over others, there’s just too great a chance of abuse happening. Stay awake. We need to keep our eyes and, in this case, ears open. So, yes, that he finally might be taken to task for repugnant behavior is a good thing.

But Donald Sterling will probably not walk away without a fight. Unlike a flagrant foul called at his former workplace, this won’t be settled quickly with two free throws and a loss of possession. We’ve shot and made the free throws, but, if this gets dragged out in court, there may not be a loss of possession any time soon and some man or woman with years of lawyering will try to tell us how wrong Sterling wasn’t.

I don’t want to hear those comments. More importantly, I don’t want other racist idiots hearing them and thinking they’re not alone.

“See?” They’ll say, “There IS another meaning to ‘I don’t want you seen with a black guy in public.'”

I’m not a lawyer — I played one in acting class once — and there seem to me to be a lot of legal pitfalls awaiting the side that tries to take away Donny’s ball. And, Donny has a history of not playing fair. This will get much uglier, if that’s possible, unless he just agrees to sell.

If he just admitted what he said espoused ideas so wrong and hurtful that he really shouldn’t be involved in this game anymore. Man up and walk off the court saying, “I fucked up. It’s time for me to hit the showers.” So far, all he’s come up with is, “I shoulda just paid her off.”

According to some reports, the fact that he is being forced to sell the team might allow him to not pay the taxes on the money received for sale. The Clippers are rumored to be worth at least $700 million so that’s a lot of tax money saved. You would think that alone might be enough to make the octogenarian owner walk away. But will it? And, there are many groups already reportedly interested in stepping up, buying the team and putting Sterling out of our misery.

Oprah Winfrey is one. Come on! How fun would that be? Giveaways under the seats, basketball strategy discussed in “Oprah’s Lifeclass” and, as she was PETA’s 2008 person of the year, more vegan fare at Clipper games.

But, will any of this make Sterling budge? Probably not. How about this? “Hey Don, if you sell your team to Oprah, it will be Gail in the seat next to her not a black guy.”

Floyd Mayweather, Jr., is another contender. He’s a world champion boxer who reportedly has a net worth of over $200 million. In 2010, he recorded his own racist rant filled with racial slurs aimed at his Filipino opponent Manny Pacquiao. This might appeal to Sterling’s prejudice. He has, however, done jail time for domestic violence, which would probably not appeal to the league. Oh, and Mayweather is black. Nevermind.

Then, there’s Magic Johnson. Rumors were immediately flying here that he was going to buy the team. It would be ironic if the man whose photo started this whole controversy were to take over the Clippers, but he has said he’s not interested and his association with the city’s other NBA team, the Lakers, seems to me, to make that unlikely. Besides, he already is part owner of a professional LA basketball team, the LA Sparks. I wasn’t kidding about that in the beginning of this article. He really did purchase the Sparks in February of 2014. Perhaps, you didn’t hear about that.

Who knows? Maybe Sterling just sells the team, collects his money and fades away. That would be a nice, strong example that you just can’t act like that. That might calm people down a bit. But, just in case you like being riled up, think about this: How is it so many people don’t know Magic Johnson owns the LA Sparks women’s basketball team? Or this: Would Donald Sterling have been banned and fined and forced sell his team if the words caught on tape were “woman” instead of “black?”

Keep your eyes and ears open everybody. And don’t say stupid shit on the phone.

Jennie McNulty was named one of Curve magazine’s Top 10 lesbian comedians. She can be heard weekly as co-host of LA Talk Radio‘s “Cathy Is In: The Cathy DeBuono Show.”

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