I almost forgot how repulsive the words were until I heard them again today.
How Donald Sterling understood ownership of a team to mean ownership of players. His disgust at the mere association of V. Stiviano with a black man like Magic Johnson. For years, Sterling had faded into the background, his repugnant personality known but not spotlighted. Hearing the audio again was a reminder, clear as day, of the indignity the Clippers had to suffer through for more than 30 years.
It was also a reminder of how strong the Clippers were to finally push back.
The series “Blackballed” premiered on Monday, a 12-episode look at what happened to the Clippers after the Sterling tapes leaked on April 25, 2014. The team was in the middle of a playoff series, but basketball was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind once the audio came to light.
We’re going to post our thoughts on the new episodes as they release and hopefully provide a space for everyone in the Clips Nation community to share their feelings and memories of that tumultuous time in Clippers history. The series has and will continue to explore some difficult topics, so please be sensitive to one another in the comments. Thanks.
Episodes 1-3: “Who Makes The Game?,” “The Fish’s Head,” and “The Tape”
The first episode was interesting to watch after weeks of dissecting Michael Jordan’s political leanings, or lack thereof, in “The Last Dance”. It was only six years ago, but the series reminds us that NBA players hadn’t been active in social discussions for very long. The generation that preceded them, one that “Blackballed” describes as “Generation Jordan”, used their platform to create generational wealth — that was the example Jordan set. That tide started to turn in 2012 after the Trayvon Martin shooting, but it was still a new phenomenon.
The series is most compelling when it focuses on the societal implications of this event, the Clippers’ experiences with racism, and the overall intersection of sports and racial politics. The second episode that focuses on Sterling’s mismanagement of the team is a story that has been told to death, and it doesn’t feel like it belongs here. The fact that the Clippers were a poorly run team is a footnote compared to the racist statements that Sterling makes.
In contrast, “Who Makes The Game?” and “The Tape” are more powerful because they explore more than just basketball; they tackle the idea that sports cannot be apolitical because they are and have always been a reflection of society. When Jemele Hill notes that black athletes are constantly aware their “relationship with mainstream success is conditional”, it reminds the viewer of what the Clippers had to lose when they ceased to become entertainers and instead conduits for some form of social justice.
It is also quite moving to hear the players share moments of their childhood when they were targets of racist attacks. It seems like that helped motivate them to do something and speak of instead of letting the problem persist. Hopefully, the series focuses more on this than the basketball aspect in the coming episodes.
What did you all think of “Blackballed” so far?