Posted 04/29/2014 by Derek Suboticki in Subo Says

Donald Sterling, or ‘MMA Fans Can Stop Pretending Now’

Different men from different sports. Image via McKinley Noble.

Boy, this is refreshing. Normally, in this line of work, easing into an article knowing you’ll be addressing the spectre of racism and bigotry in professional sports is less than enticing.

I’ve written before about MMA’s darker corners.

The intentional marketing, to say nothing of the inherent appeal, of MMA to 18-34 year old males over the years has led to a disproportionately young, white and male fan demographic. This is necessarily reflected by the kind of vile, disgusting posts that litter the comments sections of pieces like this all over. For MMA’s more progressive, thoughtful fans, the constant din of misogyny, homophobia and racism espoused by our lesser brethren (yeah, I said it) can lead to a breaking point with the sport itself.

For a lot of MMA fans, that potentially means a break with sports entirely. Many MMA fans didn’t discover their love for the sport after falling in love with others, either migrating to it from other combat disciplines or adopting it as their own with no affection for team-based or “stick and ball” competition.

They don’t have to cope with the moral dilemma posed by supporting any major American professional sports league. Once their support of the UFC ceases, so does their financial and emotional entanglement with the professional sports industry.

This article is for the rest of us.

Donald Sterling is the longest tenured owner in the National Basketball Association. He has owned the Los Angeles Clippers for 33 years, during which time the rise in league popularity (and explosion in television deal value) saw Sterling’s $12.5 million dollar investment metastasize into a $575 million behemoth of an asset.

He made his fortune as an attorney, then as a notorious slumlord. The litany of offenses perpetrated by Sterling, both basketball and business related (although, as we’ll see, the two are largely synonymous), have been tallied and expounded upon by better writers than I; a simple Google search for Sterling’s name accompanied by “racism“, “slumlord” or “sued” will return ample evidence of the man’s detestable nature and worldview.

Here’s the thing, though: virtually every webpage you find via these methods will be dated, or at the very least sourced, well before Sterling’s already-infamous conversation with his twentysomething “girlfriend” became viral.

Donald Sterling is the longest tenured owner in the National Basketball Association.

The fact that he is a racist, and has for decades profited from the blood, sweat and tears of men whom he would deem unworthy of private association, is not news to the National Basketball Association.

Former Clipper Baron Davis, in an interview with Grantland, described Sterling calling him a “bastard” and “the devil”, describing how he “hated me” and how he blames “the system” encouraging people to “keep their jobs” more than Sterling himself. Elgin Baylor, NBA Hall of Famer, former Clippers general manager and employee of Sterling for 22 years (!), sued his former boss in 2009 for wrongful termination, alleging (among other things) that Sterling had told a player’s agent “I’m offering you a lot of money for a poor black kid.” Baylor went on to accuse Sterling of envisioning a “Southern-style plantation” make-up for the team, “composed of ‘poor black boys from the South’ and a white head coach.”

Finally, Baylor compared his salary – frozen at $350,000 annually, pathetically low for an NBA GM – to that of Mike Dunleavy, “the Caucasian head coach,” who received “a four-year, $22 million contract.” Dunleavy would both replace Baylor as GM and follow his lead regarding dealing with Sterling: when Dunleavy was let go by Sterling and the cheap, openly racist slumlord refused to honor their contract, Dunleavy filed for arbitration, eventually receiving a $13 million reward. Dunleavy won, Baylor lost; in neither case is Sterling remotely defensible.

Donald Sterling is the longest tenured owner in the National Basketball Association. In 2009, ESPN: The Magazine ran a piece about Donald Sterling. In 2014, they updated it with his latest comments. I haven’t gotten to those, by the way. I don’t need to.

When Sterling first bought the [Ardmore Apartments in Los Angeles], he remarked on its odor to Davenport. “That’s because of all the blacks in this building; they smell, they’re not clean,” he said, according to Davenport’s testimony. “And it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day.” He added: “So we have to get them out of here.” Shortly after, construction work caused a serious leak at the complex. When Davenport surveyed the damage, she found an elderly woman, Kandynce Jones, wading through several inches of water in Apartment 121. Jones was paralyzed on the right side and legally blind. She took medication for high blood pressure and to thin a clot in her leg. Still, she was remarkably cheerful, showing Davenport pictures of her children, even as some of her belongings floated around her.

Jones had repeatedly walked to the apartment manager’s office to plead for assistance, according to sworn testimony given by her daughter Ebony Jones in the Housing Rights Center case. Kandynce Jones’ refrigerator dripped, her dishwasher was broken, and her apartment was always cold. Now it had flooded. Davenport reported what she saw to Sterling, and according to her testimony, he asked: “Is she one of those black people that stink?” When Davenport told Sterling that Jones wanted to be reimbursed for the water damage and compensated for her ruined property, he replied: “I am not going to do that. Just evict the bitch.

Repairs never came. The shower stopped working, and the toilet wouldn’t flush; Jones needed to use a plunger and disposed of waste tissue in bags.

Kandynce Jones departed the home she loved but that caused her so much grief when she passed away, on July 21, 2003, at age 67.

Donald Sterling is the longest tenured owner in the National Basketball Association.

In 2004, Clippers assistant coach Kim Hughes was diagnosed with prostate cancer and advised to have an operation, only to be informed that the Clippers would not cover the surgery, expected to cost $70,000. Hughes had the surgery anyway; four Clippers players anonymously chipped in to cover the cost of the procedure. The article, turning to the Clippers’ recent success towards its end, features this quote from Doc Rivers, an African American head coach who recently absconded from Boston to Los Angeles to coach the team:

“It’s different now,” Rivers said with a smile.

Donald Sterling is the longest tenured owner in the National Basketball Association, an unquestionably mainstream sport, one of the Big Four American sports leagues and, as of this 2014 poll, the fifth most popular sport/sports league in America.

(MMA did not make the top seven, and both the NFL and college football come out ahead of the NBA.)

It is impossible to go to an NBA game, watch the NBA on TV or purchase NBA merchandise without at least tangentially putting money in Donald Sterling’s pocket. Everything that benefits the NBA financially benefits him financially. Every NBA fan, every NBA employee, every NBA player that agrees to take the floor either for or against the Clippers is complicit in Donald Sterling’s billions.

Keep that in mind the next time you feel bad about being an MMA fan.


Derek Suboticki

Derek Suboticki is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also co-hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at, also available as a podcast via iTunes. Previous work includes being former editor at Head Kick Legend and Fightlinker and contributor for Watch Kalib Run and Cageside Seats.