In Defense of Donald Sterling, Or at Least Due Process

What a snow job. What a professional hit. And for all our professed love of due process, how quickly we want to hang a man.

Today, the NBA announced that it was suspending Donald Sterling from basketball for life and that it would move swiftly to do “everything in [its] power” to get 3/4 of the league’s owners to force him to sell his team.

Ms. Stiviano: I see what you did there. Yes, you. I see what you did there, and you’re almost getting away with it. But there is another interpretation of these recordings that has nothing to do with racism, isn’t there? Maybe you know. Maybe if you or your agents would release all of the tapes at once rather than selectively slicing, dicing, and leaking excerpts of them in the most inflammatory and self-serving way, we’d know more about what was really going on in these conversations.

I have listened to all fifteen minutes of the recordings that have been leaked so far, and if Mr. Sterling is a racist, they don’t prove it. I’ve listened to all fifteen minutes of the tapes in their entirety, and I’ve reviewed some of the publicly-available information about the nature and background of your relationship with him.

And I have a few, basic questions for you:

  1. How is it that these private conversations with your “honey” were recorded, anyway?
  2. Who, pray tell, recorded them?
  3. Why might someone do such a thing?
  4. Why haven’t you or your agents produced all the recordings already?

Here’s what I do know. There was only one party to those conversations who knew they were being recorded, and it wasn’t Mr. Sterling. There was only one party to those conversations who kept changing the subject and steering it toward race, and it wasn’t Mr. Sterling. I wonder why you were doing that, anyway, as you recorded him without his knowledge or consent. Maybe it was because Mr. Sterling was having an entirely different conversation than the one you were ginning up.

Here’s another, competing narrative. You and Mr. Sterling had reached an understanding over the course of your three-year relationship. You know, that horrible relationship in which he apparently bought you a $2 million duplex, a 2012 Ferrari, a 2013 Range Rover, and two Bentleys. The understanding was that he was 80 years old, and you were 30, so let’s be realistic. The understanding was that you could live your life and do whatever, or whomever, you wanted to do, but that you wouldn’t bring the guys you were doing (or at least the guys that others were telling him you were doing) to his own team’s games and post pictures of it online. So that people wouldn’t call him and tell him about it. That kind of thing. It had nothing to do with Matt Kemp or Magic Johnson or any of that. It was about other guys in particular that he was embarrassed about. This was an argument the two of you have had before. And now his wife has filed a lawsuit against you, and he’s saying he’s done with this relationship, and you’re setting him up the whole time.

Is Donald Sterling a racist? I don’t know. I’m not writing to defend the entire arc of the man’s life. We are all free to form whatever judgments we want about him, his lifestyle, and his choices. I don’t know him from Adam, and all I know is what I’ve had time for in the last 48 hours of pandemonium. But these tapes don’t prove it. I realize he’s been accused of racism before, and I agree that his word choices are old-fashioned, antiquated, or backward. Hell, he may well be a racist. But these tapes don’t prove it. They prove something else. Consider that possibility. Then listen to each of the three, 5-minute clips in their entirety, and make up your own mind.

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