Here was a story, it seemed, that resonated with a disparate and diffuse metropolis.
It was the tale of one city and two men — one on the ascent, a giant who staked his life's claim not on his championship banners, but on minority ownership in business and professional sports; the other on the decline, shouting over his shoulder as he's being shown the door.
Across the Los Angeles area — at a coffee shop in Ladera Heights, outside the gleaming office buildings of Beverly Hills — the verdict came down Tuesday and it was not generous to
For decades, Los Angeles has served as an incubator for race relations. The melting pot was forged in the embers on Western Avenue, rendered by Watts and the National Guard, seasoned with
It fell to Sterling, of all people, to deliver a moment of clarity and unity when he responded to calls for his ouster from the
"How do you talk about
The most passionate debate Tuesday wasn't about whether Sterling was right or wrong in his attacks on Johnson. It was about whether he's even worth talking about at all, whether he is still relevant to the city where he grew up and made his fortune.
"He's an old man with no filter," said veteran civil rights attorney Connie
It had been two weeks since recordings surfaced of the Clippers owner telling his 31-year-old companion,
In an interview with CNN's
"What does he do for the black people?" Sterling demanded. Jews, Sterling said, take care of their own. But some African Americans "don't want to help anybody." Johnson, Sterling said, "acts so holy." Sterling assailed Johnson for sexual promiscuity and for contracting the virus that causes AIDS.
Many viewed the public's swift, united verdict against Sterling as an indication of progress.
"Typically, there's been a blind eye toward the bigotry of the wealthy and powerful as long as they keep their mouths shut," said author, civil rights leader and commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson. "But in this case, a man who's a part of the good old boys' club is now a pariah. The message is: Your money, your status is not going to insulate you in the future."
On the subject of Magic Johnson on Tuesday, however, there seemed little room for debate.
Johnson has famously gone on to bring a host of businesses, such as
Johnson has not made a secret of his determination to foster minority business ownership. In the early 1990s, Johnson was in consideration to become an NBA coach, but the talks fell apart when he demanded to also be permitted to buy a share of the team. That team? The Clippers.
Outside a Starbucks in Ladera Heights, a group of men sat sipping cool drinks and smoking cigars Tuesday under an umbrella in the sweltering heat. Johnson himself visited the Starbucks when it opened for business and swept the stoop to demonstrate support for minority-owned businesses in working-class neighborhoods.
The men contrasted Johnson's work in recent years to some of the undertones of Sterling's career — a record $2.72-million settlement on allegations that he discriminated against African Americans, Latinos and families with children at apartment buildings he owned; an allegation by former Clippers executive
Julian Paige, 56, a retired aerospace manager from nearby View Park, said Sterling never learned an important lesson: "Better to be thought of as a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt," he said to laughs.
"All you are is a piece of meat at the end of the day, and Donald Sterling acted it out for all of us to see," Paige said.
Mia Mitchell, 28, was a pupil at Raymond Avenue Elementary School in South Los Angeles when the 1992 riots broke out near her home at Normandie and Florence avenues. She said she has vivid memories of seeing flames outside her kitchen window and missing classes because school was closed.
When it comes to race relations in Los Angeles, "we've come a long way, but we still have a long way to go," said Mitchell, an African American attorney who works in an office next door to Sterling Plaza, the Beverly Hills building housing Sterling's offices, and lives in Inglewood.
Mitchell said she was baffled that Sterling, after so much exposure to athletes and celebrities of color, would speak ill of African Americans.
"I just think he's from a different time," she said. In Los Angeles today, she said, "we're blessed by being more open to different races."