Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: In Donald Sterling affair, audiotape did what a federal lawsuit couldn’t

The right thing can happen for all the wrong reasons. That’s the enduring take-away from an NBA owner getting banned from his league for reportedly making racist comments on an audiotape that may have been obtained illegally.

No one is crying tears for the potential violation of privacy suffered by Donald Sterling, the Los Angeles Clippers owner virtually ousted by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Tuesday.

Sterling doesn’t deserve sympathy in this extraordinary event, in which Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson played a major role.

It showed how a simple recording can grab public attention in more potent ways than organized protests or past methods of confronting the rich and powerful. One angry girlfriend did more damage to a billionaire NBA owner than the full weight of the federal government.

Meanwhile, the issue stoked public indignation over race – which is very curious, all things considered.

For some, it’s taboo to talk of affirmative action or a widening divide between rich and poor that has a clear racial and ethnic component. That’s considered “playing the race card.”

But an audiotape of the 80-year-old Sterling chiding a girlfriend 50 years his junior for posting pictures of herself on Instagram with NBA legend Magic Johnson and other rich African Americans? Stop the presses! Now’s the time for a national discussion on race!

This is hugely ironic given Sterling’s alleged past attempts to exclude African Americans and Latinos from his Los Angeles apartments. Though he was sued by the feds and paid nearly $3 million in a settlement in 2009, Sterling’s legacy got scant attention outside LA.

He remained an owner in good standing, though one could argue that housing discrimination is far more damaging to everyday people than Sterling’s casual racism.

It’s also troubling – or it should be – that the method of “outing” Sterling may have been illegal. It’s against the law to record someone in California without his or her consent, but few seem to care.

Indignation was running high when Silver announced Sterling’s expulsion to the cheers of Mayor Johnson, who had been asked to advise the NBA players on finding a new union leader when the Sterling affair unexpectedly focused the klieg lights on him.

As is his custom, KJ excelled in the public eye while showing a side of himself we don’t normally see. I can’t remember him ever addressing the racial issue so publicly before. He and Vivek Ranadive, the Kings’ new owner, made Sacramento look progressive in a less than diverse NBA landscape.

This is not to dismiss what Silver did. An NBA dependent on public and corporate support had to make a strong statement. You just wish they had acted sooner, when Sterling’s victims weren’t rich people with strong public support.

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