In re Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Comments on the Don Sterling Saga

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The other day a dear friend posted basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s recent opinion piece published by TIME Magazine as a comment to my Facebook status update, which simply read: “Thank you NBA Commissioner Adam Smith (y)!” I deleted the article from the comments only to re-posted it on my wall. Abdul-Jabbar is a man I respect immensely and he made several valid points worth sharing. His piece begins with a fiery condemnation of what he sees as our pathological relationship with moral outrage. And, in a country where racial intolerance is sensationalize and exploited by the mainstream media for ratings, Abdul-Jabbar rightfully questions how and why we are so selective about what offends us.

Moral outrage is exhausting. And dangerous. The whole country has gotten a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome from the newest popular sport of Extreme Finger Wagging. Not to mention the neck strain from Olympic tryouts for Morally Superior Head Shaking. All over the latest in a long line of rich white celebrities to come out of the racist closet. (Was it only a couple days ago that Cliven Bundy said blacks would be better off picking cotton as slaves? And only last June Paula Deen admitted using the “N” word?)

But shortly after the first paragraph, I begin to get wind of something that just didn’t sit right with me. The more I read, the more uneasy I became. There are few minor nuisances. See 1 and 2 below. But the primary source of my uneasiness comes from my inability to accept some of Abdul-Jabbar’s most emphatic assertions as fact. There’s simply no evidence (at least not at this time) to support them. So I started jotting down my objections and ended up with the following list:

1. Minor nuisance. I take umbrage to being lump in with selective memory Americans or those who feign outrage when it serves some ulterior purpose. I can’t speak for every American, but my outrage is neither overblown nor misplaced. There’s been no finger-wagging, no “I told you so,” and or no self-righteous indignation…Truth be told, I find all this all very exhausting and depressing.

2. Minor nuisance. We can keep asking the question why people didn’t take action against Donald Sterling sooner, given what we know now. My answer is based in law. Sterling acquired the Los Angeles Clippers in 1981, some 25 years before the first discrimination suit was filed against him 2006. And, yes, he’s been sued multiple times and called a racist on the record. But most of those cases either favored Sterling, were settled out of court (perhaps with confidentiality agreements), or were dismissed. If you think it’s going to be hard removing Donald Sterling now, then you should know it would’ve been next to impossible before. So I find questions about why Sterling was allowed to acquire the team or why the NBA didn’t something sooner to be rhetorical, academic and pretty much moot. We can’t go back in time and no answer we receive will be satisfactory.

3. Abdul-Jabbar covered a bit of ground but not once did he mention the Los Angeles Chapter of the NAACP and its complicity in all this. Here’s an organization that I have held in high regard for most of my life, an org that I’ve actively and financially supported throughout the years. And here I learn that one of their “independent” chapters has received over $45,000 from Sterling since 2007, and it gets worse. The same chapter actually awarded Donald Sterling a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 and was about to give him another one this month! Surely current president Leon Jenkins deserve some of Abdul-Jabbar’s contempt. How, exactly, does he explain does he explain all this? 

4. But what I find most troubling is Abdul-Jabbar’s description of V. Stiviano’s behavior and his characterization of her motives. Specifically, he cannot know or prove any of the things he said in the following statement:

And now the poor guy’s girlfriend (undoubtedly ex-girlfriend now) is on tape cajoling him into revealing his racism. Man, what a winding road she led him down to get all of that out. She was like a sexy nanny playing “pin the fried chicken on the Sambo.” She blindfolded him and spun him around until he was just blathering all sorts of incoherent racist sound bites that had the news media peeing themselves with glee.

Really? So now Donald Sterling is some poor bastard being taken advantage of by a gold-digging trickster? That may be a widely held view by both men and women but we don’t know her, her motives, or the dynamics of their relationship. I also find it telling that Abdul-Jabbar had no trouble expressing his disdain for V. Stiviano but not a word about Donald Sterling being a married man for 59 years, not a word about the apparent arrangement between Sterling and his wife Rochelle! Not a peep.

5. Abdul-Jabbar not only cast V. Stiviano’s as “sexy nanny” but also concluded she committed a crime. That deduction is based on Abdul-Jabbar’s interpretation of circumstances surrounding the audio recording, not on any facts or evidence. Yes, it is illegal to record a conversation in California w/o the other party’s consent. But V. Stiviano claims she had Sterling’s consent; that he asked her to tape their conversations because he often forgets things due to his age. I have no idea who is telling the truth, and neither does Abdul-Jabbar. All we can say for sure (right now) is that no arrests have been made or charges filed.

6. Furthermore, Donald Sterling can’t have it both ways with me, as he apparently can with Abdul-Jabbar. He can’t be a blithering idiot, capable of being all spun around and twisted up by the latest dessert on his menu AND also be an extremely competent, shrewd business man. Donald Sterling knew exactly what he was saying. The audio recording removes all doubt. He despises ALL blacks! 

Abdul-Jabbar may feel empathy for Donald Sterling because an audio of a private conversation was released to the public. Abdul-Jabbar may be willing to see Sterling as a victim duped by an angry ex-lover (it happens). I think we can all agree that whether or not consent was given, releasing the tape to TMZ was an act of betrayal. But even that may be debatable because we don’t have a clue what events transpired before the decision was made to release the audio recording. So let’s not messy matters up more by confusing speculation and opinions with facts and evidence.

Here’s what I do know. I know that for many Americans, hearing Sterling’s 9:53 racist rant was the final straw. It couldn’t be ignored, and personally, I’m glad/proud that the majority of Americans didn’t ignore it because I was beginning to wonder what it would take. Maybe – just maybe – this signals the beginning of a more unified front against racial intolerance. I doubt it, but a girl can always hope and dream…

Recommended: In Defense of V. Stiviano: Your Misogynoir Is Showing | Olivia A. Cole

Honor for Tarnished Clippers Owner Turns Spotlight on N.A.A.C.P. Branch -By Tanzina Vega| NYT

 

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