Episodes 4 and 5: “Property” and “Uproar”
When a previous episode of “Blackballed” went back into Clippers history, the detour felt a little unnecessary because Donald Sterling’s mishandling of the basketball team is almost immaterial to the overall story. However, “Property” dives back into Sterling’s off-the-court history, which is important to paint the overall picture of what the Clippers — and the city of Los Angeles — had to deal with for so many years.
At the time of the Sterling incident, many people within the media and beyond pointed out that Sterling had already shown his true colors, and that these comments were hardly among the worst things he had ever said or done. Sterling was involved in housing discrimination lawsuits; the documentary specifically cites a black woman who had to manually dispose of her mother’s feces because her toilet went unfixed. Former Clippers GM also filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Sterling in which Baylor stated that Sterling had a ”vision of a Southern plantation-type structure” for the team. Sterling’s public comments echo this sentiment, given that he routinely speaks about “buying” players and “giving these poor black kids an opportunity”.
The images of Sterling interacting with his players are incredibly uncomfortable, and Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan describe them as such. Paul goes so far as to say that he felt like Sterling was “petting” him. The annual Sterling white party is even harder to stomach, and the look on Blake Griffin’s face when Sterling introduces him at the party and expects him to speak may be the single most powerful image from the first five episodes.
Doc Rivers has spoken about how he mistakenly thought he could fix the Clippers once he became the coach, but Sterling’s racism quickly interfered with his ability to make basketball decisions, notably the JJ Redick signing. Redick comments on his Clippers contract in the documentary, saying Sterling woke up one morning and decided, “I think that’s too much money for a white guy.”
Deal was done on Tues in LA. Flew to Austin. Got a call from Doc at 6 pm July 4. “You better play for me mother f$cker”. Had no idea what he was talking about. Tried calling my agents. They didn’t answer calls for 48 hours. Finally Arn called Saturday PM to tell me what happened https://t.co/LRqHS4gtjz— JJ Redick (@jj_redick) May 19, 2020
But the NBA let Sterling exist as he was for over three decades. The Clippers even put out what Doc Rivers said was the worst press release in league history attempting to excuse Sterling’s words. The difference at this particular moment and the reason that Sterling finally earned some comeuppance, as Tom Ziller does an excellent job of pointing out in his newsletter, was that the players spoke up.
The NBA commissioner nominally serves the 30 team governors. Adam Silver notes in the fifth episode that although he does work for those 30 individuals, he doesn’t serve any single one, and he says, “on any given day, my responsibility is to the NBA as whole.” Ziller makes the point that the NBA’s players, and specifically its stars, control the league now more than ever, and thus Silver’s responsibility to the league has effectively become serving the players’ interests.
The highlight of this episode is hearing the reasons from each of the players about why they felt it was necessary to speak out and what motivated them to take a stand. They are the primary actors in this story, and “Uproar” does a great job of giving them center stage. Hopefully, the rest of the series continues to add insight to what the players were thinking during those five days.
What did you think of the latest episodes of “Blackballed”? Let us know in the comments.