All That Glitters is Not Sterling
by Tommy Hawkins
The Clippers are playing against the Houston Rockets leading the series 3 to 1. Tuesday they will play in Houston and LA fans are rooting for the Clippers to go all the way to the finals. In light of the Clippers success under new ownership, Tommy Hawkins’ article, All that Glitters is Not Sterling, first published last year in Malibu Chronicle, still resonates today.
The great Greek philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” so let’s get on with it. Somewhere in the dark recesses of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s statements are a toxic notion of racial order. How he came to these racist conclusions is the subject for his psychiatrist; that his feelings are now public is mind-boggling. In this day of being politically correct, I’m sure that most high-visibility folks carefully guard their prejudices. Sterling’s racial revelations jolted us. From the barrage of well-planted newspaper ads, we were led to believe that Donald “the Don” was one of the greatest humanitarians and philanthropists since John D. Rockefeller. But, obviously, all that glitters is not Sterling. As the voice of the old “The Shadow” radio program used to ask, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”
When the story broke, as a 10-year veteran NBA player and former Clipper television analyst, I immediately focused on how it would affect the team. After decades of being an NBA doormat, the Clippers have emerged as a respected contender for the league championship. Would this be a blow that would destroy all of the progress that has been made? And what about the long-suffering loyal Clippers fans who now enjoy the spotlight of success and new-found respectability?
On Tuesday, April 29, the nation awaited new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s pronouncement on the Sterling caper. The verdict was unanimous; Sterling was banned for life from owning an NBA team. I sprang into action, dusted off my tape recorder and digital camera, and headed downtown to Chick Hearn Way and the Staples Center. I wanted to mingle with the fans and capture some of their reactions. I expected to find hordes of pre-game people, out of control, celebrating the triumph of good over evil. Instead, the throngs were striding with measured pride displaying ‘No Bigots Allowed’ signs and wearing anti-racism T-shirts – all anxious to express their disdain for Sterling’s plantation mentality statements.
Anthony Wayne Ford said the story is bigger than Sterling. He salutes former Clippers Vice President, Elgin Baylor, for bringing the racial issue to the forefront. Ford chastised the Los Angeles/Hollywood chapter of the NAACP for even thinking about giving Sterling a Lifetime Achievement Award. He walked away singing: Money can’t buy you love.
Decked out in an outlandish red and blue outfit with shoes and hat to match was “Clipper Darrell.” The 22-year loyalist was all charged up about the team’s success. “ When”, he asked, “have you ever been able to say the words Clippers and Championship in one sentence? Let the NBA deal with Donald Sterling and his racism, and let the fans come together as one and cheer the team on to victory.” He hurried into Staples Center urging the crowd to join him in chanting Championship! Championship! Championship!
I pressed on and encountered veteran broadcaster, Tony Cox, who also ‘took the high road.’ He feels that in spite of Sterling’s heartfelt racism, the Clippers have to look past him towards a greater glory.
I was touched by the comments of Dr. Harold Johnson and his wife who were there to witness a landmark victory and to celebrate the NBA’s positive stand. “Racism”, they said, “continues on today and every time that monster raises its head, hopefully it will be decapitated.”
When I was the Lakers first round draft choice back in 1959 (time flies when you’re making progress), there were only eight NBA teams and 96 players. Only 24 of them were men of color. Today there are 30 league teams with over 400 players; 70% of whom are African American. I can remember when there was a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ among NBA owners that no more than three Black players could be on any team’s roster. Can you imagine the National shock when the Boston Celtics, coached by Red Auerbach, upped the ante to five Blacks and startled them all? Gentlemen, take a bow: Bill Russell, “Satch” Sanders, Willie Naulls, Sam Jones and K.C. Jones. We’ve come a long way, baby.
This closing comment from my personal soapbox: We Angelinos live in the most ethnically diverse city in the history of the world and we have no choice but to honestly deal with it. I’m sure that most of us in this community can say, “Some of my best friends are __________.” I leave you with these words from the Buffalo Springfield’s recorded hit, ‘For What it’s Worth’, “…it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound? Everybody look — what’s going down!”