Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Why This Clippers Fan Is Finally Jumping Ship

Donald Sterling racist

I’ve been a Clippers fan ever since I moved west to Hollywood on a whim as an adventurous 25-year-old, bringing my love of basketball with me.

Everyone was a Lakers fan in those days. I’ll confess, I experimented with the purple and gold myself. I marveled at the mastery of Shaq and Kobe, the bombastic brilliance of Rodman, the glitz and the action of the “Lakeshow”– even if they did play in the decidedly shitty Inglewood Forum back in those days.

The Lakers were certainly at the top of their game at the turn of the century, but I’ve never been one to hop on bandwagons. So I did something radical. I declared myself a Clippers fan and for most of the next 15 years I endured rooting for a team dubbed the “worst franchise in sports history” by Sports Illustrated. I also endured the mockery of a city that quite clearly didn’t even acknowledge that LA had two NBA teams, even if they did share the same arena starting in 1999.

I even bought season tickets after they moved into the new Staples Center, shelling out thousands each year to watch a truly horrific team lose game after game before crowds that were smaller than at some local high school games. A win was a big deal back then; in the rare event we beat the Lakers, it felt like we won an NBA finals game.

The Clippers excelled in drafting top prospects (due to their perennial bottom-finisher status) and watching them flee for more lucrative climes when owner Donald Sterling refused to offer them contracts reflective of their true worth. Either that, or the team would draft colossal busts, like Yaroslav Korolev, Marco Jaric and the laughably bad number one pick Michael Olowokandi.

There were always whispers about “that cheap Jew Sterling” and his tightwad ways, but having been raised by Jews and instilled with a healthy abhorrence of anti-Semitism, I always smacked down such accusations as absurd. How ironic that a man who I repeatedly defended from bigots turned out to be one himself.

There were signs. Oh, were there ever signs. Like when he had to pay millions to settle allegations that he discriminated against blacks and Latinos at some of the apartment buildings he owned around Los Angeles. Sterling reportedly said that blacks “smell, they’re not clean,” and that Mexicans “just sit around and smoke and drink all day.”

As a half-black, half-Mexican adopted by a Jewish family, I am all too familiar with these racist stereotypes. Sadly, my own mother is partially responsible for instilling them in me. While no Jew who adopted a ‘blaxican’ baby in the early 1970s could really be called a serious racist, my mother certainly did voice some pretty nasty racial views. I remember we had Jamaican tenants when I was very young, and my mother, upon finding half-eaten pieces of uncovered chicken in our refrigerator, cursing “those dirty Jamaicans.”

That was my first impression of black people, being that there really weren’t more than a handful living in my tiny South Jersey town, where the KKK once paraded in full ghostly regalia and David Duke declared his presidential candidacy. When the Klan came marching, mom was furious. She hated racists, seemingly oblivious to how her own comments regarding the people she saw while on vacation in Mexico or while driving through predominantly black neighborhoods (windows always rolled up, doors always locked) were instilling me with racist views it would take me until well into adulthood to jettison.

There was also the uncle on my mother’s side who told his teenage daughter, my cousin, that she couldn’t date the black boy she had a crush on, not because my family is racist, but because of the damage such intimate association would do to her “reputation.”

Perhaps because I was desensitized from hearing such language, or maybe because I had recently renounced a conservative youth in which my own racism, or more accurately, hyper-nationalism, strongly influenced my worldview, I didn’t turn my back on the Clippers when the first allegations against Sterling made headlines. Maybe it’s because after many seasons of suffering, the team was getting pretty good.

Sterling himself seemed to be defying the ugly stereotypes that had dogged him for so long. He built– and retained– one of the most talented teams in the NBA today. Now they’re in the playoffs again, and for the first time ever, they’re not considered underdogs. Things couldn’t have been going any better in Clipper Nation, short of a sweep of Golden State in the first round of the current playoffs.

Then came last weekend’s bombshell revelation that Sterling really has a big problem with black people. Not only that, he doesn’t want his own half-black, half-Mexican mistress openly associating with them. Or posting photos with them on Instagram. Or bringing them to Clipper games to support– financially or otherwise– the team full of black players he owns.

From a business standpoint, Sterling’s stupidity could rank as the the most costly racist gaffe of all time. The reasons for this are obvious. I’ll certainly never pay to see another Clippers game as long as he’s still the team’s owner. As a matter of fact, I’ve long said that if the Golden State Warriors ever move back to San Francisco, I’d stop being a Clippers fan and support my hometown team. It looks like those Warriors will be returning. Donald Sterling just made what was going to be a mildly painful decision a whole lot easier. I was never religiously wedded to my basketball teams. But I am religiously wedded to notions of equality and justice.

I haven’t decided yet whether to wait until the end of the Clippers’ 2014 playoff run to make the switch. For the first time ever, they’ve got a decent shot at winning a championship, and I’ve earned the right to enjoy something Clippers fans have long been starved of– the sweet taste of success. It seems a bit unfair to turn my back on the players that represent the team more than Sterling, whose Clipper commitment has long been questioned. But as LeBron James said, “there’s no place for Donald Sterling in our league,” and it’s just a matter of when, not if, I jump the Clipper ship.

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