Jewish Journal

Donald Sterling is a blight on more than just Jewish basketball history

by Brad A. Greenberg

May 1, 2014 | 10:19 am

The most unfortunate Jewish newsmaker since Bernie Madoff might be Donald Sterling.

Basketball fans have long known that Sterling, who has owned the Clippers since 1981, doesn't care about winning; he sees the NBA as a revenue stream. Angelenos also have long known that Sterling, who owns numerous apartment complexes in low-income areas, doesn't care about his common man; Sterling seems him too as a source of revenue (though, as the feds have long known, Sterling doesn't see all potential tenants as being created equal). And, in the past week, the racist thoughts many believed Sterling's actions evinced were confirmed by his own voice.

TMZ published one tape of Sterling in a racist rant, followed by an extended cut at Deadspin. And the rest, including Sterling being banned for life from any affiliation with the NBA and this episode, was, as they say, history. Except for the history that Sterling disrupted, noted by this TNR headline Tuesday: "Clippers Owner Donald Sterling is a Blight on Jews' History in Basketball."

Marc Tracy wrote:

It’s sad for all the obvious reasons, but it’s also sad because basketball and the National Basketball Association have historically been a concentrated locus of Jewish-black exchange, and even solidarity. Due to patterns of racial acceptance in the United States, Jews broke into mainstream basketball first and have attained more positions of power, frequently using those hard-fought positions to open the sport up to blacks. If the relationship has occasionally veered toward the paternalistic, it has nearly always been well-meaning. Of course, when Sterling did things like compare his team to a Southern plantation (allegedly), he went well beyond even the worst kind of aloof liberal condescension.

Nothing in Tracy's article should surprise the casual follower of Jewish history or basketball history. It also shouldn't be too provocative.

Jews have a rich history in basketball—and, no, not just as owners. (Probably my favorite experience as a reporter was searching through this history.) Early Hall of Fame players like Barney Sedran and later Dolph Schayes; legendary coaches like Nat Holman and Red Auerbach; Stern! There is no shortage of beautiful Jewish history in basketball. And, yes, integrating the game was part of that.

But this isn't about just race. To the point of TNR's headline, Sterling is more generally a blight on basketball history—Sports Illustrated once dubbed him responsible for the Clippers being The Worst Franchise in Sports History. Sterling also is a blight on human history—here's a few despicable examples (and a comically disgusting one). Stands to reason, then, that Sterling would be a blight on Jewish history in basketball too.

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