“He just cut him down and cut him out.”
That was the response from South Los Angeles barbershop owner Lawrence Tolliver moments after the NBA commissioner told Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to leave the building, and not just for a day or two, but for life.
“The commissioner got right to the point, and I am very, very pleased,” said Tolliver, who is hoping Sterling’s ban forces him to sell the team to someone who’s not a local embarrassment.
In a remarkably blunt televised news conference Tuesday morning, Sterling was repudiated and kicked to the curb for being hateful and stupid enough to have gotten caught establishing himself as a Hall of Fame bigot.
NBA chief Adam Silver said Sterling admitted that it was his voice on an audiotape scolding a female friend for Instagramming pictures of herself with black folks. He also told her not to bring any of those people to his games.
Meaning NBA games, in which 8 in 10 players are African American.
Daffy? Sick? Tawdry?
Welcome to Donald Sterling’s world. It’s all the loopier because the female in question is of mixed race and half a century younger than the doddering octogenarian, who is said to have set his friend up with a home near the Beverly Center and luxury vehicles.
Let this be a reminder to one and all: Never get tangled up with anyone 50 years younger because it can only end badly.
At Tolliver’s clip parlor Monday, the day before Sterling was sentenced to eternal shame, the clientele was having a typically passionate, boisterous conversation on race, as Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson looked on from their posters on the wall. It’s been 67 years since Robinson broke the color line in major league baseball, 59 years since Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, and just a few days since Sterling turned back the clock.
Sterling’s remarks, fresh on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that suggests we’re ready to move beyond affirmative action, followed those by Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy on the good old days of cotton picking.
“He said we’d be better off as slaves,” Tolliver said about Bundy. And then Sterling came along.
Tolliver was particularly appalled by the part of the recording in which the man said to be Sterling talked about his players. “He said, ‘I buy their food, I buy their cars, I buy their houses. Like he’s a slave owner,” said Tolliver, who said he believes the players are nothing but tools to boost Sterling’s already staggering fortune.
Neither Tolliver nor his customers were shocked by the revelations on the tape. They’re well aware that the billionaire property owner once paid millions to settle a housing discrimination case, and he was sued unsuccessfully by onetime Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor, who said Sterling ran the Clipper operation like it was a plantation.
What in the world, Tolliver demanded, had the NAACP been thinking with its plans to honor Sterling after he made a donation to the organization? The group changed its mind when the latest Sterling scandal broke, but Tolliver says Sterling’s true colors were already known, and he suspects the owner’s charitable donations are investments in image control rather than expressions of true compassion.
The barbershop consensus was unanimous on two points:
First, that the country has made much progress on race.
Second, that there’s a long way to go, because Sterling is anything but a lone man on a tiny island.
“I’ve been hearing it all my life,” said Warren Allen, a dentist and Vietnam vet. He said people frequently let loose around him — with the N-word and more — because he’s light-skinned and they don’t know he’s African American.
Race-baiting is alive and well, said Bishop Curtis Gadson of Amazing Grace Outreach Ministries.
“We have people on television and talk radio scaring the hell out of people,” Gadson said.
The bishop grew up in the South and recalls segregated bathrooms and drinking fountains. He moved to L.A. 50 years ago and knew immediately that it was a better place. But even now, he said, he sees white people eye him suspiciously depending on the time and place.
“A whole lot of it has changed, but a whole lot of it went underground, and when Obama became president it all came back out,” said Ron Simmons, a church elder. “They couldn’t help themselves.”
For him, Sterling’s remarks deserved full condemnation. He was taken back to 1970, when he was bused from a black high school to an all-white school in Inglewood. The very first day, he recalled, demonstrators greeted their arrival, and one man waved a sign bearing racial epithets.
You can’t have a good barbershop conversation without a dissenting view, and in this case Drew Palmer took the challenge.
Sterling’s purported remarks were deplorable, said Palmer, an engineer and youth mentor. But he says he’s more incensed by the casual use of the N-word in street talk and rap lyrics.
Why a firestorm over Sterling, he asked, and silence on the objectification of women and glorification of gangs in popular culture? Is it just about capitalism, same as it is for Sterling? And why compassion for millionaire ballplayers who aren’t necessarily the best role models, but so little consideration of the working poor who couldn’t afford to see a Clipper game even if Sterling allowed them into the building?
Palmer won some points, but no one in the room was about to give Donald Sterling a pass. Simmons, like Tolliver, saw a parallel with the winner of this year’s best-picture Oscar.
“It’s like ’12 Years a Slave,’” he said. “Just call it ’12 Years a Clipper.’”