Lakers fans howl at team owner and VP of Player Personnel Jim Buss. Some people say he's not qualified to run the team in any capacity, let alone making basketball decisions on behalf of the greatest franchise in the league. Other say that he simply needs to maintain a spot as a silent owner, as he's nowhere near the man his father was. Most people would say that he's just an out-and-out idiot that they want nowhere near the Lakers. While I might not necessarily agree with all those opinions, it's a hot topic of debate within the fanbase. Some people really despise Jim Buss. They think that his decisions, basketball-wise, are driving their beloved franchise into the ground. That's definitely a conversation worth having. Sometimes, even a highly contentious one.
But the conversation between Lakers fans have everything to do with basketball and nothing to do with what kind of man Jimmy Buss is. Whether you think he's incompetent or an unfair beneficiary of nepotism, that's where the debate ends. No one is discussing whether or not Jim Buss is a good person.
Clippers fans--what kind of conversations are you having this week?
By now, even the most casual of basketball fans know the story: an alleged recording of Clippers owner Donald Sterling spewing racist remarks to a girlfriend has gone public. Nearly everyone associated with the league has made a public comment about this one way or another, as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Commissioner Adam Silver and everyone down the line has decried the alleged comments. Hell, even President Obama weighed in. From Malaysia.
If the recordings are proven to in fact be him--and as of now, we have little reason to believe that they're not--then it's going to be one of the more serious transgressions that any owner has been accused of. In a mostly black league, such blatant racism strikes with serious emotional resonance, moreso than maybe any other professional sports league in the world.
But what's most disturbing to me as a Los Angeleno born and bred, is that only now is this a news story. Though I rarely agree with Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke, his tweet today spoke in volumes to me:
My problem here is that people should have acted on Sterling's racism long ago..it was written-debated for yrs in LA and nobody listened— Bill Plaschke (@BillPlaschke) April 27, 2014
This hasn't been a news flash to anyone that's been paying attention to Los Angeles basketball over the past 15 years. Hell, ESPN's Bomani Jones wrote this article in 2006, that not only referenced a suit against Sterling for housing discrimination then, but also suits in 2003 as well. Plaschke is right: there has been a long, documented history of Donald Sterling being a bigot. The only surprise I had when seeing the news on Friday night was that TMZ broke it rather than Fox Sports or ESPN.
I've long held a great deal of contempt for the Clippers. They're arguably the worst franchise in league history, making the playoffs a half dozen times in 30 years and dwelling towards the bottom of the league standings. Sterling has promised a great product year after year, yet until recently has never spent the requisite amount of money needed to keep his teams together. On top of that, he's continually hired incompetent front office executives that have turned a dozen top-10 lottery picks into just two Western Conference semifinal appearances and banners in STAPLES Center that depict players, not titles. It's been the worst run organization in the NBA for the past three decades by a long shot, a frustrating reality considering the media market they're in, the arena they call home and LA's hunger for basketball.
Sterling's continual bungling of his immense resources has been extraordinarily frustrating for any basketball fan, let alone a fan of the franchise. Up until a couple years ago, it almost felt like a case for the Better Business Bureau--an owner who continually promised a good product, but withheld the funds necessary to follow through on that promise. Season ticketholders were deceived time after time, waiting for the next great Clippers team that never came. Though I'm not suggesting that he actually tried to do so, it was almost like Sterling put forth an effort to be that bad for that long. It wasn't real.
If you agree with any of those statements, then you'll have to agree: a team is simply an extension of the owner. They do not exist without the capital of an ownership group and it is the owner that ultimately hires the basketball decision makers. It's a trickle-down effect that Lakers fans have to understand: Dr. Jerry Buss financed the team with a payroll that allowed them to go into the luxury tax for decades, along with hiring the General Managers that put those championship squads together. No, the front office executives and players do not symbolize the owner necessarily, but they do play on his or her behalf. The Lakers name, colors and arena are inextricably tied to the Buss family. These 30 teams only exist because someone wants to own them. They do not exist without an owner. Over a half-dozen WNBA teams have folded over the past decade. You know why? Because no one wanted to own them.
You cannot excise an owner from the team. Whether or not you agree with their viewpoints or even like them as people, there's no doubt that supporting the Lakers means financially and symbolically that you are supporting the Buss family. I can't see it any other way.
That is why for so long I've abhorred the Clippers. They were backed by the worst owner in professional sports, not to mention someone who is just not a good person. If the Clippers were ever to win a NBA championship, it would be Donald Sterling up on that podium, receiving the trophy from the Commissioner. He would be the first man congratulated this season if the Clips win the title. Not Chris Paul. Not Blake Griffin. Not Doc River. Donald Sterling. He would be the guy. He is the Los Angeles Clippers.
And this is why I have always detested Clippers fans.
Let's set aside the latest story just for a second. How could someone support a team that's not only been bad, but has almost always been bad? That repeatedly makes horrible basketball decisions? That consistently puts a losing product on the floor? The past three years aside, it's been a literal lifetime of broken promises and a complete disregard for the interests of the fans. This is not a team with a deep history. This is not "your father's team that you'll support no matter what". They haven't won titles decades ago like the Pittsburgh Pirates, despite years and years of losing in the following years. They aren't just on a title drought like the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have made very concerted, very expensive efforts to win the World Series since 1988. The Clippers are a team that is run by a man who has ignored very public cries for better basketball decision makers, coaches and players for the sake of profit.
Supporting the Clippers has almost always been cheering for a team that doesn't care about it's customers. They have been largely interested in making money more than making their fans happy. The fans have always come second. How could you possibly cheer for a team like that? How could you possibly give them your hard earned money? How could you possibly fuel this ownership group to further pollute the NBA waters with such a garbage product? Following the Clippers is a choice. They are not a tradition without a recent history of titles in the same way the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Mets are. This team is as disgraceful of a franchise as there has been in any professional sports league in North America. They are a franchise that has routinely put profit first, basketball second and if the fans are happy, that's a nice coincidence. That's the kind of team Clippers fans root for. A team that disrespects the game of basketball.
The recent allegations against Sterling make this worse. Supporting the Clippers is giving Donald Sterling money. Buying their merchandise and purchasing tickets. Watching their games leads to higher ratings that will give them even more national television appearances next season and ultimately leads to more Clippers money. It all goes to the same place: Donald Sterling's pocket.
Some Clippers fans will say "we root for the team, not the owner". Bullshit. Not linking the two is a willful exercise in ignorance. Whether they say it or not, this team plays for their owner. They are paid by their owner. He will be the main beneficiary if they win a championship.
Sometimes a team can transcend an owner--become so embedded in the fabric of a city that it almost becomes as much public property as private. The New York Yankees, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs are as much a part of their towns as the Empire State Building. The Clippers aren't in this class. They're not even close.
Continuing to root for this team, especially after this latest incident, is unconscionable. Today the Clippers shed their warmups at half court and wore their shooting shirts inside out as a show of solidarity against their owner. Unfortunately, no amount of clothing or public protest will really separate themselves from Sterling. He's the one writing their paychecks. He's the reason why they have a job. He's the one who paid for the uniforms and gave the go-ahead on the team's warm-ups. I don't buy that you can separate the two, no matter what their sentiments are.
I've never understood Clippers fans. Everything about the product they support seems to violate every rule of why we love for basketball in the first place: teamwork, effort and entertainment. The Clippers, their front office and owner have rarely shown that they care about those things in their three decades of complete disregard for what the NBA should be.
To me, if you're a Clippers fan, I can't consider you a real NBA fan. I just don't understand. Standing by this team and thus, this owner for the past 30 years and especially past 30 hours is a case of extreme hypocrisy. I won't change my mind until Donald Sterling is no longer associated with the NBA.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino