Clippers owner Donald Sterling might want to look at the calendar next time… (Kirby Lee / U.S. Presswire )
Their best player soars over the imagination, their young stars sprint past old stereotypes and, goodness, they were even athletic enough to kick out Baron Davis.
If only the Clippers could stop tripping over their owner.
When Blake Griffin roars, it is drowned out by Donald Sterling's heckling. When Eric Gordon shoots, it is overshadowed by Donald Sterling being sued.
Nowhere is the tug between good and creepy more evident than in this newspaper, where, for every positive Clippers story, there seemingly appears an awkward Sterling advertisement, which brings us to the latest Donald T. Shame.
Most of Sterling's ads have lauded him for winning unrecognizable humanitarian awards, but a couple of days ago, one would have only qualified him for Dolt of the Year.
It appeared in The Times' most recent Sunday edition, showing separate head shots of Sterling and Griffin under the heading, "Clippers Celebrate Black History Month."
Yet it had a pretty weird way of celebrating it.
"In honor of Black History Month, the Clippers will admit 1,000 underprivileged children free,'' read the text, and if you're like me, you're thinking, hmm, why are "underprivileged children'' directly linked to ''black history?''
Is Donald Sterling saying that the only underprivileged children are black?
The other problem is the date of the "'Black History Month'' giveaway, which is March 2 against Houston. If you are going to honor that month, get the right month. For the last 35 years, Black History Month has been celebrated in February.
If this were any other owner of any other team, this would merely raise eyebrows. But given Sterling's history on racial issues, it drops jaws.
He once paid $2.73 million to settle housing discrimination allegations. He is being sued by former employee Elgin Baylor for having a "plantation mentality." In Baylor's court filings, Sterling was even accused of bringing women into the locker room while the players were showering and saying, "Look at those beautiful black bodies."
Dr. Todd Boyd, a USC professor and celebrated author on issues of culture and sports, has long been among those in town who have openly wondered how Sterling's behavior has avoided league censure. He thought this latest bit of ink-stained wretchedness was just more of the same.
"If he was trying to be sarcastic," Boyd said, "it actually might have been funny, but he wasn't."
Boyd said the main issue was the propagation of a tired generality.
"You know," he said, "Sterling's history is so tainted at this point, nothing would surprise me."
Once again, in trying to buffer his image, Sterling has stained it. Once again, just as you are believing again in the Clippers, you are doubting its owner, and you wonder whether his approach to improving the team will continue to mirror his approach in "honoring" African Americans.
And people wonder why nobody around here really believes Griffin or Gordon will eventually stay?
"The ads are so big, they force you to pay attention to them," said Boyd. "It's funny, but there seems to be a lot more of them since he paid that discrimination settlement."
The Clippers did not make their owner available for comment but did issue the following e-mail statement:
"This event is another successful well-intentioned effort on the owner's part to ensure that we give something meaningful back to our community. It's as simple as that. That's what matters. Parents will accompany their children at no cost and hundreds of families will benefit."
From team President Andy Roeser through the ranks of their many surprisingly long-time and loyal employees, the Clippers organization seems to want to do the right thing. But as long as Sterling remains the owner, it all seems to come out wrong.
"It's ridiculous this guy can own a team and behave the way he does," Boyd said.
This is because the only color the NBA cares about is green, and one color that Sterling has always embraced is green. His Clippers are filling seats. His Clippers are filling television sets. His Clippers are making money.
The NBA sadly doesn't care whether a profitable owner's conduct is detrimental to society, as long as it's not detrimental to the league, even if that conduct seems to marginalize a culture that comprises most of the league. A player rips an official and he's immediately fined. Sterling takes out an ad that shades an entire ethnic group and everyone shrugs.
At this point, the only Donald Sterling ad that most Clippers fans can tolerate would be found in the classified section.