In 1983, coaching candidate Rollie Massimino angrily recounted how San Diego Clippers owner Donald Sterling — he would move the NBA team to Los Angeles a year later — used the N-word to describe his players during an interview. Hardly anyone noticed.
In 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice brought charges of housing discrimination against Sterling, alleging that he refused to rent apartments to African-Americans. The suit was settled three years later for $2.75 million, creating a minor hubbub that soon passed.
In 2009, in documents included in a wrongful-termination lawsuit, former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor attributed this quote to Sterling: “Personally, I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players.” The world went about its business.
Nothing Sterling has done or said since buying the Clippers in 1981 has resulted in anything approaching the mass outrage we have witnessed since Saturday morning, when TMZ.com posted an audio file of the franchise owner urging his young mistress not to be photographed with black people or bring them to Clippers games.
Since then, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has banned Sterling from remaining playoff games, and many of the Clippers' biggest corporate partners have pulled their sponsorships. Some fans have discussed their intention to boycott Game 5 of the Warriors-Clippers series, set for Tuesday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Before that, Silver is expected to announce league-imposed sanctions against Sterling, which may include an attempt to force him to sell the team.
Donald Sterling has not changed noticeably over the years. He has long been considered the NBA's cheapest, kookiest and most bigoted owner. What has changed is the media landscape around him.