The Donald Sterling challenge

Ronald Martinez

Words fail when it comes to describing the exquisite awfulness of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. But let's give it a shot anyway.

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There are a great many things to say about Donald Sterling, and then there aren't. He was already the most odious team owner in American professional sports, well before we heard the recordings of him maundering and whining through various racism-isms and subtextual sexisms in his best Master Shake imitation. But that is, maybe, shaped too much like a compliment to fit this man and this moment.

Better to say that this vainglorious, philandering, multiply bigoted and generally loathsome slumlord -- a man that for decades consciously ripped off, discriminated against, bullied and otherwise immiserated the numerous regular humans of various races unlucky enough to live in the rental properties that have made him rich, then paid the fines associated with those crimes and giddily went on committing them -- is at the bottom of every list of which one might want to be at the top.

It is appropriate that Sterling's undoing comes from something as shabby as this. It fits that the killshot is a recording made by a scorned ex-girlfriend. It fits that, in that recording, he whinges his way through a toxic catechism of wrongness without ever sounding anything less than self-pitying, pathetic and small. This tragicomic scumminess suits him, and the shadow of frivolous litigation -- the ex-girlfriend is being sued for $1.8 million by Sterling's estranged wife Rochelle for gold-digging-unto-embezzlement -- adds a nice shade of Sterling-ness.

The non-comic tragedy of it is that all this richly-deserved shame was so long coming.

The truest suck of it is that the honest working people that suffered for years in the substandard homes that Sterling rented to them -- because he couldn't be bothered to think of them as people, and because it is how he does his profitable business -- are not dealing out this vengeance. That, and that Sterling continued to suck around in public for so long, degrading his team, the people who played for it and the people who cared about those people, all the while growing richer. It's like some sort of savage satire on the relationship between virtue and success in sports and in the world. It's strange and a little upsetting to see how Sterling sounding like a bigot is punished so much more and so much more quickly than him actively being a bigot.

But Sterling's reckoning is here, and that's a great thing. Very good, very pointed things have been written about this, and the context in which everything exists. (Read Paul Flannery and read Tom Ziller, read Jeb Lund, read Tim Marchman and read Dave D'Alessandro.)

Donald Sterling fallout

At some point, everything having to do with Donald Sterling collapses towards astonishment that there really is someone like this and that he is so fully unashamed and totally unshameable. The last bleak un-astonishment is that he is also somehow, despite all that, so close to untouchable. The feeling all that evokes is not an easy thing to name. The only name we have for it is Donald Sterling.

So let's work on that. Below is a list of Donald Sterling metaphors, a way of comparing him to other things that are, if not exactly like him, closer than anything else. Let's consider it a start on solving the linguistic problem he presents and a way to say to him what the NBA and polite society have been so slow in saying. The other problems he represents we will have to work out in time.

So, Donald Sterling is:

  • A rancid Werther's Original butterscotch that has developed the ability to be wrong about things.
  • Marge Schott, but with less sex appeal.
  • A horny brisket, in a wig.
  • The "real racist" you sometimes see mentioned in comment sections. We found him, and turns out it's the guy who drafted Michael Olowokandi No. 1 overall in 1998.
  • An erection that has lasted for more than six hours and which requires immediate medical attention.
  • A badly damaged, half-melted wax figurine of Richard Gere with a cassette player mounted in its back playing slowed-down recordings of George Wallace speeches.
  • A metaphorical hill that a bunch of wrongheaded and pissed-off people are more than willing to die on, because the Liberal Media has (belatedly) decided he's odious and they can't stand to agree with people they've decided they hate, even on a case as egregious as Sterling's and even when doing so involves something as simple as repudiating the sort of views and casual dehumanizations that we all supposedly repudiated generations ago. Or, because they agree with Sterling in some inchoate way and feel moved to advertise that. Sorry, this one isn't funny. Sorry.
  • The circa-now result of Leonardo DiCaprio's character from Django Unchained being bitten by a vampire, but then eating badly and over-tanning for two-and-a-half centuries.
  • You know iguanas? If they are capable of getting hemorrhoids, Sterling is one of those.
  • The solitary thing about Los Angeles that makes Anthony Kiedis think, "You know what, there are some things about Southern California that are not very cool."
  • A stately mansion in Pacific Palisades, Calif., with exquisite ocean views and beautifully landscaped gardens, but somehow every square foot of it smells like a warm rhinoceros fart. The mansion costs $17.7 million and the owner refuses to reduce the price.
  • A fucking disgrace, a brutal parody of self-delusion and a death's-head reminder of how poisonous ignorance can be. A reminder of the rot that blind greed, unaccountable wealth and the cruelest, hardest vanity can visit on the human soul -- which is a thing Sterling has, and which was maybe not much different than any of ours before he went about letting himself become what he is.
  • Almost gone, blessedly.
Go ahead and share your own, if you want. He deserves all of it. He has for a very long time.

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