If Steve Ballmer’s reported offer to purchase the L.A. Clippers is approved by the NBA, many will claim victory over the racist ranting of elderly mad man Donald Sterling. Some of us, however, will not see it as a victory at all.
Another white male billionaire joins one of the most elite clubs in the world – white male billionaires who own sports franchises. This is not to intimate that Ballmer is racist. We can and should judge him by his record at Microsoft.
As one of the co-founders, he amassed a considerable fortune, but by some reports the final stages of his tenure at the helm of the company were marked by an inability to acknowledge innovations in the information technology world.
Let’s hope that he will be more sensible about the changing globalized world in which we live and within which the National Basketball Association must conduct business for the foreseeable future.
Amidst the media frenzy surrounding Donald Sterling’s recorded comments last month, several pundits tried to keep the spotlight on the substantive institutional iterations of racism as opposed to the sensational comments made by Sterling in private.
We did this for multiple reasons.
Important research conducted by Race Forward, concludes that: “Two-thirds of race-focused media coverage fails to consider how systemic racism factors into the story, instead typically focusing upon racial slurs and other types of personal prejudice and individual-level racism.”
Secondly, the attention generated by Sterling’s “individual-level racism” obscured the more important facts about how he systemically discriminated against black and brown families in the Los Angeles residential market or how his racialized attitudes impacted the work environments of his players or his professional interactions with Elgin Baylor.
Additionally, in the media frenzy moment, it was more important to shine the spotlight on the extremely elite and homogenous nature of franchise ownership. Wouldn’t it have been more prudent to talk about diversity in ownership of NBA franchises at the very moment where one of its owners’ implicit biases was so readily on public display?
We missed that moment, and the changing same is the consequence of our continued inability to confront racism in systematic ways.
Note well here that there were at least two reported bids that featured possibilities for innovating the collective identity of NBA owners. Oprah Winfrey was part of one group and Grant Hill was part of another. But those bids (both of which hovered around the 1.1/1.2 billion dollar mark) were woefully outstripped by Ballmer’s 2 billion dollar offer.
Again, if it goes through, this will be one of highest prices ever paid for a professional franchise. Although the Sterlings will lose the Clippers, they will gain a considerable return on their investment – expanding their wealth as a result of racially abhorrent behavior. The NBA will lose the Sterling sheen – a history of bad behavior that this most recently sensationalized incident could not effectively bring to light. They will be happy to see him go – regardless of how Mark Cuban votes.
Sterling was bad for business. And that’s it. To think that the NBA is actually interested in diversity and innovation or diversity as innovation, particularly at the levels of general management and/or ownership is to give the organization too much credit.
After all of the hoopla about race, racism and the NBA, Ballmer’s acquisition of the Clippers franchise simply represents more of the same.