Donald Sterling: An NBA Plantation Owner


Adam Silver has banned Donald Sterling from the NBA for life and fined him 2.5 million dollars. In addition, Silver is also going to request that the NBA’s Board of Governors vote to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.

The ruling was widely celebrated by all in the NBA as it should have been. There is no place for a racist in the NBA or society for that matter. 

But Silver did not have much choice in the matter. When the stars of the game such as Lebron James, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson call for immediate and decisive action, and with the league being predominately black, it left Silver very little room regardless of his true feelings—which was outrage.

The question now is what are we going to do about the millions of other bigots and sexists out there—regardless of whether they own a business or not? And many of them do.

Sterling reinforced the notion that money and success do not necessarily guarantee class and sophistication. Nor does it guarantee brains, social skills, or tolerant racial views.

Then again there are people with a lot less means who have racist views.

Racism has been around since the beginning of time and there is no reason to believe that it is going to be eradicated anytime soon.

Science fiction writers tell tales of futuristic segregated and racist societies and there is no reason not to believe them. They seem to have a pretty good track record as far as the future goes.

While I can understand the outrage that many expressed over Sterling’s comments it was no surprise.  The best predictor of one’s future behavior is their past actions.

Sterling who has a long rap sheet when it comes to these types of behaviors and attitudes was just saying what many think but dare not put into words ;  not only about blacks but about all races and religions.

Sterling was caught on tape in his own home making racist remarks which is traditionally a place where families have open discussions of this nature.  Proving that one should not feel safe anywhere these days as people are being recorded and spied upon in places that were once sycophant.

In an ironic twist Sterling was outed by a spurned, vindictive -paramour who it appears that he treated poorly and just happens to be a minority.

It is no surprise that Sterling has also been depicted as demeaning towards women. Psychological research has shown that sexism and racism are highly likely to co-exist in individuals. There is a tendency for people like Sterling to see the world hierarchically, where status is embraced.

Thus it is a hop, skip and quick psychological jump to plantation thinking where people of different colors knew their place.  And perhaps Sterling longs for those times?

It has been reported that the players on the Clippers felt compassion for Sterling’s wife although to date she has stood by him forgiving his marital transgressions and attempting to explain his outlandish behaviors.  The team feels she has done nothing wrong.

Nonetheless there are those that want the whole Sterling clan gone in order to wipe the slate clean.  There are already many luminaries lining up to buy the Clippers, and James is saying the penalties inflicted on Sterling are just the beginning.

This means that James expects the league to act commensurate with the speed of light when it comes to the vote by the owners to throw Sterling out.

In a world that is primarily subjective and the gray far outweighs the black or white, people strive to categorize and often stereotype others.  This is done in order to bring stability to their emotional lives helping them to make easy classifications and distinctions.

What people say has meaning and should be taken very seriously, but sometimes actions speak just as loud as words. In Sterling’s case his team is all black as is his head coach, proving that people can act paradoxically.

In this instance Sterling said one thing but his actions did not reflect his words when it came to his team.

But then again a good plantation owner would do that anyway!

When people get away with transgressing or acting poorly as Sterling apparently has for extended periods, it only reinforces the abhorrent behaviors they engaged in.

They are more likely to engage in those behaviors again just like a Skinnerian pigeon. The problem is Sterling is not a pigeon although at this moment some might wish that he was, rather than the plantation owner he fancies himself to be.

Sterling is clearly a powerful man among many powerful men that exist in the world.  Some handle power and status better than others. Money and power often bring a false sense of entitlement while making some feel invulnerable.

Looked at this way; it is easy to see that years full of excesses and getting one’s way can delude an 81 year old man not only into losing his boundaries, but it also can delude him into thinking that his behaviors are not being monitored.

Sterling is not alone.  The monitoring of behaviors and particularly inappropriate behavior is at an all- time low in our society.  It seems that almost anyone can say anything they want and get away with it– or at least think they can. And unfortunately they often do.

Self-monitoring which is a process of being mindful of what, where and when one says something is inculcated in childhood and is a lifelong process.

We have all been in situations where either children blurt out revealing information about something we do that we do not want others to know  or say something that we are thinking—but we know better than to say it.  Or at least some of us do some of the time.

Sterling has either never learned this skill, does not care about it or both. Perhaps that is what a life of privilege, power and a lack of social-emotional skills can do.

It has been my experience that people like Sterling are most affected when their power and egos are affected. While Silver’s decision was universally hailed it served to both hurt and punish Sterling where it counted– in his wallet and his self-concept.

Sterling may not give up so easily or sell his team and go quietly into that goodnight. He is reportedly one of the richest men in the world and will make a nice profit on the sale of the team. But that would make too much logical sense and we are not dealing with logic in Sterling’s case.

First, there is little doubt that Sterling thinks that the punishment does not fit the crime. Second, giving up would mean that he would have to submit and lose, something Sterling is not used to.

And finally, Sterling must be aware that his legacy is now permanently tarnished. So at 81 years old with much of his life behind him what does he have to lose except his money, power and a diminished ego?

And for Sterling that is what it is all about.