No one much likes Clippers owner Donald Sterling, mostly because he doesn't seem very interested in building a consistent winning team and he treats the people that work for him like they are not people. Plus he mocks the supposed leader of his team from a courtside seat. He's a real prince!
Sterling is also thoroughly disliked by one of his longtime employees, former executive and NBA legend Elgin Baylor. For 22 years, Baylor made personnel decisions for the Clippers as they traversed their way through the draft lottery. Then, after resigning in October 2008, he filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against the team on the grounds that he was underpaid and fired because of his race.
In November, my esteemed colleague Mr. Dwyer detailed Baylor's description of Sterling fostering a "plantation mentality" within the organization. Now, some more details have come out about Sterling's actions in recent legal filings, courtesy of J.A. Adande on TrueHoop. Here's the juiciest part:
"While ignoring my suggestions and isolating me from decisions customarily reserved for general managers, the Clippers attempted to place the blame for the team's failures on me," Baylor said in the declaration. "During this same period, players Sam Cassell(notes), Elton Brand(notes) and Corey Maggette(notes) complained to me that DONALD STERLING would bring women into the locker room after games, while the players were showering, and make comments such as, 'Look at those beautiful black bodies.' I brought this to Sterling's attention, but he continued to bring women into the locker room."
Well, that doesn't seem like a very ... wait, what?! "Look at those beautiful black bodies"! In the 21st century?!
Sterling's actions remain alleged, and it's often the case that facts get exaggerated. But if you're looking for pretty much the exact definition of a "plantation mentality," this is it right here. Bringing women into a locker room and having them prize African-American men for their muscular bodies is pretty much the height of treating African-American men as physical specimens rather than people. Sterling's essentially treating his players like animals at a zoo here, and it's as disgusting a story as you're likely to hear about an NBA locker room this decade.
Again, we shouldn't accept this account as unimpeachable fact just yet. But if it's true, Sterling is going to have a lot to answer for. In 2005, he was ordered to pay $5 million to victims of discrimination in one of his Los Angeles apartment complexes. That arguably seemed like reasonable cause for the NBA to order him to give up ownership of the Clippers. But if this other story is true, well, then he should be ordered to give up control of the Clippers immediately. Owners exist to turn franchises into winners and money-making enterprises, not to treat their players like pieces of meat. Here's hoping this isn't true, because it's almost too terrible to imagine.