On Donald Tokowitz

donald tokowitzAll anybody wants to talk about today is what the NBA is doing to Donald Tokowitz, the 80-year old Beverly Hills real estate magnate who owns the Los Angeles Clippers and was recorded making some rather egregious requests of his mistress about her social media practices.

You might not recognize the name, but Tokowitz is the name he was born with. He changed it to Sterling when he was in law school, and upon graduation he hung up a shingle and practiced divorce and personal injury law, investing the proceeds into downscale real estate.

He’s been a slimeball for a long time. He’s made a lot of money as a slumlord in Los Angeles – and a deranged slumlord at that. Tokowitz made a practice of driving around the bad neighborhoods in which he owned rental properties and filing eviction notices for violations like potted plants on balcony ledges, and his rental practices are the stuff of legends. In 1986, a mob of his tenants marched on City Hall to protest his spiking of rents in a property dubbed the “slums of Beverly Hills” – after which it appears he decided he wouldn’t rent his Beverly Hills property to blacks again.

The legal paper trail surrounding his property rental business is amazingly long – and expensive for him. In 2005 he settled a housing discrimination suit filed by the Housing Rights Center on behalf of his tenants for $5 million in legal fees and an undisclosed sum to the individual plaintiffs. In 2009, Sterling settled a suit by Justice Department, accusing him of systematically driving African-Americans, Latinos and families with children out of apartment buildings he owned, for $2.725 million.

As an owner, Donald Sterling has been an unmitigated disaster. If he’s not the worst owner in professional sports he’s very close. Sterling bought the then-San Diego Clippers for $12.5 million in 1981 – three-quarters of that price coming on layaway. He promised the people of San Diego that he would deliver them a product to be proud of. “It’s the start of a new era!” said an open letter from Sterling to the fans. “I’m in San Diego to stay and committed to making the city proud of the Clippers. I’ll build the Clippers through the draft, free agency, trades, spending whatever it takes to make a winner.” He accompanied that open letter with full-page ads in local newspapers featuring his smiling face. During Sterling’s first season as the Clippers’ owner, there were accusations he was stiffing players on their paychecks. Head coach Paul Silas’ experience working for Sterling wasn’t a picture of harmony; when Silas was in China for a Players Association tour, he returned to find his office occupied by Patricia Simmons, a former model with no basketball background but a new title as “assistant general manager,” and his things stacked in the hall.

By 1984, after seasons of 17-65, 25-57 and 30-52, and with crowds averaging an NBA-low 4,500 a game, Sterling moved the team to Los Angeles without the NBA’s consent. He was fined $25 million by new league commissioner David Stern, and he sued the league for $100 million in response. The question was ultimately settled with Sterling paying the NBA $6 million for the move. That wasn’t the beginning of a new era for Sterling; it was only the first of many examples of his fleecing his employees, customers and fellow owners.

In 1999, the Clippers went 9-41 in a lockout-shortened seasoned. They did so without a head coach. Sterling wouldn’t hire one.

In 2004, assistant coach Kim Hughes was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The team’s health insurance wouldn’t pick up the cost of a surgery Hughes needed, so four players had to chip in to help out. Sterling couldn’t be bothered.

In 2009, longtime general manager Elgin Baylor, who spent 22 years losing with the Clippers before being fired, filed a wrongful termination suit against Sterling. The disclosures from that suit were embarrassing enough…

Baylor sued Sterling and others in February 2009 in L.A. Superior Court for wrongful termination and discrimination on the basis of age and race. Baylor, who spent 22 years as Clippers general manager before departing in 2008, later dropped the race accusation. A jury ruled in favor of Sterling in March 2011.

In the original lawsuit, Baylor said that Sterling had a “vision of a Southern plantation-type structure” for the Clippers and accused the owner of a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude” during long-ago contract negotiations with Danny Manning. The lawsuit also quoted Sterling as telling Manning’s agent, “I’m offering you a lot of money for a poor black kid.”

Baylor alleged Sterling said he wanted the Clippers to be “composed of ‘poor black boys from the South’ and a white head coach.”

Baylor also claimed that his salary had been frozen at $350,000 a year since 2003 while “the Caucasian head coach was given a four-year, $22-million contract.”

That Caucasian head coach was Mike Dunleavy, who got Baylor’s job as general manager but was also fired under acrimonious circumstances. Sterling accused Dunleavy of defrauding the team, but Dunleavy ultimately was awarded $13 million for money owed on his contract.

All the while, there were Sterling’s Great Gatsby parties, in which celebrities were invited to wear all white at his palatial estate, and his NBA Lottery parties, which were described by Sports Illustrated thusly…

Sterling has often prepped for his parties by placing newspaper ads for “hostesses” interested in meeting “celebrities and sports stars.” Prospective hostesses have been interviewed in the owner’s office suite. One former Clippers coach recalled dropping in on Sterling during a cattle call. “The whole floor reeked of perfume,” he said. “There were about 50 women all dolled up and waiting outside Donald’s office, and another 50 waiting outside the building.” The chosen get to mingle with D-list celebrities and drink wine from plastic cups.

And the mistresses. The current one, who goes by V. Stiviano, is hardly the first. There was this…

Alexandra Castro, a former mistress of Sterling’s, testified in a lawsuit filed against her by Sterling that he had asked her advice in 2001 on whether to hire Alvin Gentry as coach — he did so — and on which players to award contract extensions to. “It was purely sex for money,” Sterling testified. “I probably didn’t tell my wife.”

The Castro affair became a rather tawdry spectacle when Sterling’s deposition came out. To wit

During a sworn January 2003 deposition, Sterling denied having a relationship with Castro, though he changed his testimony when questioned again last August. In often explicit detail, Sterling recounted three years of transactions with Castro, whom he met in mid-1999 (after she had lived with boxer Mike Tyson).

While acknowledging that, “maybe I morally did something wrong,” the Clippers owner was not shy when it came to describing hour-long sessions with Castro, whom Sterling credited with “sucking me all night long” and whose “best sex was better than words could express.”

Testifying that he was “quietly concealing it from the world,” Sterling had a blunt appraisal of his “exciting” relationship with Castro: “It was purely sex for money, money for sex, sex for money, money for sex.”

Sterling was married at the time, and he’s still married. The current mistress, who recorded the conversation which has put Sterling in this mess is being sued by Sterling’s wife for his having given her a bunch of expensive gifts like a Ferrari, two Bentleys, a Range Rover,  a $1.8 million duplex and some $240,000 in cash for her to be a kept woman. Stiviano’s demurrer to the suit, which is a legal device amounting to a motion to dismiss, makes for fun reading

This is an action brought by a very angry wife whose husband is a highly public figure and who is well known to be “keeping women” other than his wife and who has done so for very many years with a big toothy grin brandishing his sexual prowess in the faces of the Paparazzi and caring less what anyone else thought, the least of which, his own wife.

Donald T. Sterling, curiously not a party in this action, has flaunted that grotesque lifestyle in front of and in his wife’s face for nearly their entire marriage of 50 years. The person least fooled and 0 least affected and least “robbed of her due” is Mrs. Rochelle H. Sterling.

At a minimum, she has been complicit for over 50 years and, here, particularly, has “looked the other way” if not put hands over her mouth, covered her eyes and attempted to cover her ears. Further, this not the “first rodeo” as the expression goes. Mr. Sterling has been very publicly involved with numerous women time and time again, whether for a particularly short “contracted” period of time, or a near four (4) relationship as is the alleged case in this matter. It is clear from past conduct, that Mrs. Sterling has at a minimum, either “enabled” Mr. Donald T. Sterling to do, over and over again what he does, or that she approved of the varied and many gifts as described in the complaint. The “relationship” [whatever it may have been or not been] between Mr. Donald T. Sterling and Ms. V Stiviano was open, notorious, obvious and long standing. Ms. Stiviano attended hundreds of events, participated in myriad charity functions sponsored by Mr. Sterling, and was a veritable “fixture” at his business offices over the last four (4) years. Mrs. Sterling was very frequently accompanying Mr. Sterling at events wherein she and V Stiviano were integrally involved in the charitable functions themselves. Ms. Stiviano was neither hidden, closeted, nor a clandestine “affair” at any time. Mrs. Sterling absolutely tacitly if not openly approved of the relationship and the gifts.

And finally, there is the “philanthropy.” Sterling was due to receive a “lifetime achievement” award from the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP  next month, which looks an awful lot like that organization was willing to sell him a racial indulgence despite his manifest lack of fitness to collect awards from “civil rights” organizations. There is also the matter of Sterling’s supposed $50 million homeless shelter, promised eight years ago and never delivered upon despite years of display ads in Los Angeles papers congratulating himself for the plans.

If all of this strikes you as tawdry and nauseating, you now begin to understand what would otherwise have been a quite shocking action NBA commissioner Adam Silver took today – namely to ban Sterling for life from all NBA events and to seek to force a sale of the club, while fining Sterling $2.5 million that would go to “anti-discrimination” organizations of the league’s choosing.

But where Silver made his mistake, from the standpoint of the public’s perception of his actions, was justifying the ban on the basis of Sterling’s comments to Stiviano recorded perhaps illegally and leaked to TMZ.

That’s a mistake on a number of levels.

First, it creates the impression that the NBA is OK with the idea that someone can be ruined on the basis of something they said privately which is impolitic or out of style. Sterling’s comments on the Stiviano recording, in which he berates her for making a practice of posting pictures on Instagram where she poses with black men and then brags about how he feeds and clothes his black players, are indefensibly stupid and an indication of a man who is more than just a racist; he’s a cretin of the lowest order. But most of us are at some point in time subject to judgement as cretins, and were our private statements broadcasted to the public our professional fates could be negatively affected.

Silver could easily have said that based on 30 years of running embarrassment, scandal, disgrace and dishonor on a number of fronts this was the last straw. In fact, a string of “whereases” leading up to the announcement of the ban could have outlined a very defensible case against Sterling and made his ouster uncontroversial.

Instead, he made it look like the NBA wants to dispossess people of their connection with the league because they might think and say racist things. This, just two days after New York Knicks executive and former NBA star Larry Johnson was caught on Twitter calling for an “all-black” league. If Silver doesn’t come down on Johnson with some degree of punishment for making a racist statement it’s going to look like a double standard and a PR hit will ensue.

Another Johnson, Sacramento mayor and former NBA star Kevin Johnson (who has his own tawdry past as well) has taken the lead in howling for Sterling’s ouster after the current fracas over his statements. Kevin Johnson was deputized as an “advisor” to the NBA Players’ Association for a number of reasons, among them the fact that he’s a prominent California politician of African heritage and the fact that he’s a friend of Barack Obama’s – the president named him to an advisory board on climate change in November of last year.

And there’s still another Johnson involved in this mess – which some believe could be the active ingredient in all of these events. That would be Magic Johnson, the former NBA great and Los Angeles native who has reportedly been for some time the front man for an investor group seeking to buy the Clippers from Sterling without a lot of success. It turns out that Magic Johnson has some sort of relationship with Stiviano; it was a picture of the mistress and the Hall of Famer on the former’s Instagram which set off the conversation that exploded into the current scandal. Sterling objected to his girlfriend being seen with Johnson in public, and one speculates that the reason for the objection isn’t just race but irritation that Johnson is fraternizing with Sterling’s girlfriend while trying to buy the team from him.

With the recording leaking to the public, setting off the current scandal, and giving Johnson a platform to declare Sterling shouldn’t own an NBA team anymore, it’s not hard to see the leverage being constructed to detach the team from Sterling and put it in Johnson’s hands.

Silver making the announcement of the ban and the coming attempt to force a sale of the club only serves to feed speculation that this whole thing was a setup.

Nobody should sympathize with Donald Tokowitz; he’s an arrogant, licentious, avaricious reprobate who uses cash gained through shady business practices to buy friends and allies his personal merit and reputation in the community would otherwise prevent him from having. And further, he’s been allowed to use that fortune, and the PR flacks and lawyers it buys, to paper over disgusting and immoral behavior that would have created consequences long ago to pry him from the public eye. That his comeuppance has finally come is a good thing. He shouldn’t be defended.

The problem is how that comeuppance has been delivered.

The NBA ban shouldn’t just have been delivered as part of a knee-jerk reaction to stupid racist comments made in his own home. It’s the “lifetime achievement” award that Tokowitz richly deserves. And it should have been billed as such.

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