The NBA’s great big meaningless gesture

HeadRacist billionaire celebrity racist Donald Sterling has been banished from America’s National Basketball Association after the known racist was caught being super racist in a controversial race row.

The owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, a bigot from way back, will also likely be forced to sell his team after he was recorded by upstanding moral arbiters TMZ admonishing his girlfriend for being seen with black people.

Sterling, 80, who made his riches in property, stands to reap as much as $700 million from the sale, which will buy him a lot of cotton farms, David Duke audiobooks and other racist accoutrements.

The incident has united NBA players – 70 per cent of whom are African-American – in condemnation of racial prejudice, and the league’s subsequent decision to come down hard on the daft old duffer has been universally lauded.

But does the NBA really have any right to feel proud of itself? If they’re this quick to punish someone who expressed a personal view in a private place, how much stick would they use against a team owner who actually did something deplorable to actual people?

Someone like Orlando Magic owner Richard DeVos, perhaps. DeVos, who’s worth a breezy $5 billion, is a major donor to Focus on the Family, an ultra-conservative Christian organisation that, among other things, endorses conversion therapy to “cure” homosexuality.

Or what about someone like Stan Kroenke, the owner of the Denver Nuggets? Stan and his wife Ann own a $6 billion stake in retail monolith Walmart, which engages in predatory pricing and bribery and has fought a decades-long war with unions over its underpayment and mistreatment of its mostly minimum-wage staff.

And then there’s Stephen Pagliuca, co-owner of the storied Boston Celtics franchise and managing partner of Bain Capital. You may remember Bain Capital from such US presidential election campaigns as 2012, when it was revealed that the private equity firm co-founded by Republican candidate Mitt Romney was notorious for taking over troubled companies at discounted prices, paying itself massive dividends and bankrupting the business.

There are others of course – few billionaire sports-team owners get to be billionaire sports-team owners without raping a forest or exploiting a workforce along the way.

My point is this: we should rightly congratulate the NBA for doing its best to expunge retrograde imbeciles from its enterprise. Bravo, etc. But what this is not is some great big progressive victory against racism. It’s the dressing down of a doddering geezer for having the kind of opinions you’d expect a doddering geezer to have. That’s it.

If the NBA wanted to make a serious statement about the fundamental rights of all people, they’d kick out DeVos for driving confused teens to suicide and Kroenke and Pagliuca for being complicit in business practices that reduce employees to units of production.

Until then, punishing octogenarians with half-billion-dollar cheques will have to be statement enough.