What Kind of Behavior Leads to a Lifetime Ban From the NBA?

If you would like to see a contemporary example of a bad tree bearing bad fruit, then look no further than the man whom the National Basketball Association just banned for life, Donald Sterling, the 80-year-old billionaire who has owned the Los Angeles Clippers since 1981.

The controversy began on Friday night, when an audio recording of Sterling expressing racist sentiments appeared online.

In the recording, Sterling chastises his mistress, Vanessa Stiviano, who is of black and Mexican descent, for posting a picture of herself on Instagram with former Los Angeles Laker and respected entrepreneur Magic Johnson. “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people,” Sterling says. “Do you have to?”

Though Stiviano, who refers to herself as “mixed,” accuses Sterling of displaying an appalling level of prejudice, Sterling continues, “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask is you not to promote it … and not to bring them to my games. … I’m just saying, in your lousy [expletive] Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself … walking with black people.”

Celebrities, NBA legends, and the President of the United States have all weighed in on the controversy, calling Sterling’s comments “disgusting” and “unacceptable.”

By chiding his mistress for simply associating with a black person, Jason Reid, a writer for the Washington Post, notes, Sterling reduced Johnson “to nothing but a color.”

An official statement released by the Clippers reads, “Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs, or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes, and how he has lived his life.”

The trouble for Mr. Sterling is that, for years, his actions have exposed his thoroughly depraved character. Although the recently leaked audio file sparked outrage that extended beyond the sports world, the tape’s contents are merely the latest in a series of revelations that exhibit the kind of man Sterling is.

As is the case for all of us, Sterling’s character is manifested in his résumé. Here is Sterling’s:

In 1996, Sterling, a married man, was sued for sexual harassment, and in 2003, he admitted to paying women for sex.

The real estate mogul (who changed his last name to Sterling because it sounded like success) was sued by 19 tenants for failing to repair the apartments of blacks and Hispanics and for actively trying to drive them out. ESPN the Magazine reported an incident in which a paralyzed, blind tenant was seeking reimbursement for water damage and ruined property. Sterling turned to one of his property supervisors, asking, “Is she one of those black people that stink?” Sterling concluded, “I am not going [to reimburse her]. Just evict the [expletive].”

In 2009, Sterling paid a $2.7 million settlement in a lawsuit brought against him by the Justice Department, accusing him of refusing to rent apartments in Beverly Hills and Koreatown to blacks and Hispanics. In sworn testimony, Sterling admits he did so because “Hispanics smoke, drink, and just hang around the building,” while “Black tenants smell and attract vermin.”

Former Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor, an NBA legend who worked under Sterling for 22 years, sued the organization for discrimination, saying that Sterling, who envisioned “a Southern plantation-type structure” for the team, displayed a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude.”

Former head coach Mike Dunleavy, who was fired in 2010, sued the Clippers for failing to pay the rest of his salary.

When Kim Hughes, an assistant coach for the Clippers, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he discovered that his health insurance plan would not cover the $70,000 surgery his doctor recommended. Sterling refused to make an exception and offered no assistance. As a result, four players paid for Hughes’ surgery.

In the latest scandal, Sterling clearly expressed to his mistress that he does not want black people attending his games. After NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s pronouncement on Wednesday, Donald Sterling will not be attending the games, either.

In his Late Late Show monologue, Craig Ferguson stated the obvious, “You know what’s bad? When you get on tape with your mistress, and it’s what you said that’s the problem.”

It is impossible to hide the orientation of your heart. If you harbor hatred within you, it will be evident in your actions. If you love your fellow man, that love will flow through your thoughts, words, and deeds. The inner man cannot hide behind the outer man for long, for, as Jesus says, “everything that is hidden will come to light” (Mark 4:22).

Some prominent figures, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, have stated that Sterling’s punishment is too harsh. In addition to being banned for life from NBA events, Sterling has been fined $2.5 million and will likely be forced to sell his team. But if Sterling would have fostered a noble character in the first place, he would have had nothing to worry about. Paul writes in Romans 13, “Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval” (v. 3).

Even if the NBA were acting unfairly, a noble Sterling could find rest in his clear conscience. Judging from his history, however, Sterling has no such recourse. Finally, it seems, the worst owner in professional sports is getting his just deserts.

Biblical Insights:

What are your words saying about your character (Matthew 15:17-20)?

“Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes out of the body. But evil words come from an evil heart and defile the person who says them. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all other sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands could never defile you and make you unacceptable to God!” (Matthew 15:17-20)

Donald Sterling’s words did not arise spontaneously, appearing out of thin air. His words had a source. If they came from the abyss, then that abyss was his own heart. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus insists that the outer man reveals the inner man, and that the intentions of the heart, which are always evident to God, cannot be hide from our neighbors.

At Summit, we believe that thought dictates action, which is why it is imperative that we think faithfully. Our beliefs about God determine our words and actions not only on Sunday but also throughout the work week. The faith we exercise is never truly private, because it provides us with guiding principles that affect our orientation toward ethics, politics, economics, and the arts. As much as we might like to divide ourselves into the public and private versions, we will find that a bifurcation of the self is impossible. Our public actions reveal our most deeply held beliefs. Thus, we ought to ensure that we are thinking precisely as God would like us to, so that we can act and speak as he would like us to, as well.

What are your actions saying about your character (James 3:16-18)?

“For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every kind of evil. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no partiality and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.” (James 3:16-18)

In this passage, James illustrates the fruits of wisdom, which include mercy, good deeds, and impartiality. Wherever these are present, we will likely find wisdom. And where we find wisdom, we will find the Spirit of God, which is its source.

Yet, in the case of Donald Sterling, we are confronted with disorder and every kind of evil. By failing to care for the blind and paralyzed tenant, whose damaged possessions were floating in water due to a leak in an apartment building he owned, he evinced a shocking lack of mercy. And by refusing to look after the health and well-being of Kim Hughes, an assistant coach suffering from prostate cancer, Sterling spurned an opportunity to perform a good deed.

Finally, by displaying deeply-embedded hatred toward another human being simply for the color of his skin, Sterling exhibited an ungrounded bias, a profound prejudice, and a pernicious form of partiality that is directly opposed to the Christian ethic.

What does the Bible say about racism (Colossians 3:9-15)?

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all! As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another, and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:9-15)

When we profess faith in Christ and enter the Christian community, we become adopted sons and daughters of God — coheirs with Christ. As Christians who strive for holiness, who have put off the old self and put on the new self, we are new creatures, brothers and sisters who worship the same Father, the author of all life. So, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

The kind of attitude displayed by Donald Sterling, however, is clearly condemned in scripture. Race has nothing to do with a person’s actions, which serve as the appropriate basis for judgment in public opinion, in the court of law, and in the court of God. Treating another person with contempt and partiality simply because of the color of his skin is an indefensible prejudice that undercuts human dignity and runs afoul of Christian charity.