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Monson: Thank heaven, I told Donald Sterling no

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Gordon Monson

By Gordon Monson

Tribune Columnist

First published Apr 29 2014 09:18AM
Updated Apr 29, 2014 11:55PM

It was one of the smartest little decisions I’ve ever made.

Telling Donald Sterling no.

Back in the 1989-90 season, Sterling read a story I’d written while working for a Los Angeles newspaper and he liked it, or so one of his underlings said when he called me to issue an invitation. This is how that conversation went:

Sterling rep: Gordon, Mr. Sterling really enjoyed your recent article.

Me: Oh, thanks. Tell him thanks.

Sterling rep: He liked it so much he would like to invite you to dinner and to an upcoming Clippers game. You can dine with him and then sit next to him and visit during the game and get to know one another better.

Me: Uh.

Sterling rep: I think you would enjoy his company. He really wants you to come along. He’s looking forward to it.

Me: Uh.

Sterling rep: No, no, he really liked your article. It’s a personal invitation from him. He asked me to call you.

Me: Can I get back to you on this?

Sterling rep: OK, here’s my number, my information, dial me up as soon as possible and I’ll let Mr. Sterling know. He’s eager to hear from you.

That was it.

Nothing extraordinary. Just an invitation out of the blue from the largest real estate holder in Beverly Hills, the man who had done an abysmal job of owning the Clippers, but a spectacular job of making a billion dollars and throwing outrageous parties with his famous friends in and around Hollywood.

I looked into the invite and it was legit. I also looked into Sterling, the man, to find out what I could about the person doing the inviting. What I discovered was a dirty rich dude with whom I wasn’t thrilled about spending any time. He seemed like a jerk.

I told his rep thanks, but no thanks.

Sterling wanted me to go to dinner and a game with him because he liked what I had written, and, apparently, come to find out all these years later, because I wasn’t black.

The NBA investigated the authenticity of the bombshell recording made by Sterling’s girlfriend that TMZ.com released over the weekend, the one in which he scolded her for posting pictures of herself with African Americans like Magic Johnson to her Instagram account and inviting African Americans to Clippers games, and rightly found it inexcusable.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced at a press conference Tuesday that he was banning Sterling for life from the NBA, fining him $2.5 million, and urging the league’s board of governors to force the owner to sell the team. He said Sterling’s voice "has no place in the NBA."

Good, strong move by the commissioner. The correct move.

Excerpts from the Sterling recording included:

"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?"

"You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in. You can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games."

"Don’t put him [Johnson] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games."

Silver waited for his investigation of those remarks to be completed, to verify their authenticity, half-expecting the bitter Sterling to fire back on and sue the NBA. The situation is complex, as a lot of matters of law are. Recordings of individuals made without their knowledge or consent is illegal in California. But since the recording was verified — Clippers president Andy Roeser had raised the possibility that it was messed with, saying the girlfriend is being sued by the Sterling family over allegedly embezzling nearly $2 million — Silver has navigated those attendant legalities, and now will deal with the politics among the league’s other owners, on his way to doling out his announced penalties.

Those penalties are severe, as they should be.

It’s one thing for an owner to make mistakes here and there, even big ones, but it’s another to sport the kind of attitude displayed by Sterling. This guy shouldn’t be an NBA owner, and in a diverse league, as Silver said, there is no room for such bigotry. Don’t know how all of that holds up in court, but it certainly holds up in the court of public opinion.

Silver did — and is doing — the right thing.

We’re not talking about fussy political correctness here. We’re talking straight-up racism, the kind of beliefs that are the definition of ignorance and ugliness. It’s not the first time Sterling has been accused of racist behavior. Check his track record. How anyone, even an 80-year-old lost in a backward stance, can go on thinking that way, talking that way is beyond disappointing, beyond discouraging, it’s a combination of disgusting and sick.

I thought I made the right decision to pass on a night out with Mr. Sterling 24 years ago. I know it now. I thank heaven and earth I spared myself the experience by turning the sad, sorry man down.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.

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