When it comes to the latest Donald Sterling story, I'm surprised at the surprise.
And if the NBA does anything about it?
That would be a surprise, too.
If you've paid attention to the NBA before TMZ dropped an audio file of tape of what it said was a conversation between Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and his girlfriend, then Sterling's disparaging view of African-Americans shouldn't come as a shock.
It fits right in with a man who paid a record $2.75 million to settle a federal housing discrimination lawsuit that included accusations that Sterling and his wife made statements "indicating that African-Americans and Hispanics were not desirable tenants and that they preferred Korean tenants."
It fits right in with a man who was unsuccessfully sued for wrongful termination by former general manager Elgin Baylor, who claimed, among other things, that Sterling once said, "I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players," and that Sterling would bring women into the locker room to gaze at his players' "beautiful black bodies."
It fits in with a man whose idea of celebrating Black History Month, which is in February, was inviting 1,000 underprivileged children to a Clippers game. In March.
Before a 2010 Lakers vs. Clippers game, then-Lakers coach Phil Jackson was asked about the Clippers' long-term bad luck and he ascribed it to Donald Sterling's behavior, and karma. "How many incidents do we have on file?" he mused.
"I had the occasion to spend five different days taking Donald Sterling's deposition," said Carl Douglas, an attorney who represented Baylor in the suit against Sterling. "Over those sessions, you gained insight into one's heart and soul. From that perspective, I cannot say that I am any bit surprised to read about his latest incident. It is consistent with his dark history of racial insensitivity."
The other consistency: the NBA's unwillingness to do anything about any of the previous incidents. No fines, no suspensions. Just as former commissioner David Stern came to lament his failure to punish Phil Jackson and Pat Riley for casually suggesting league motives behind officiating calls, which led to a full-fledged culture of conspiracy among NBA fans, he must regret the lack of sanctions for Sterling over the years that led to this moment. Now Stern's creation becomes new commissioner Adam Silver's problem.
Any action by Silver would also entail his stepping out of the safe cocoon established by his counterparts in the NFL and Major League Baseball. Commissioners have often punished owners -- Mark Cuban fines come to mind. But they aren't quick to impose their will on owners who essentially are their bosses. You'll notice that Roger Goodell hasn't acted on Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, whose Pilot Flying J truck stop company is accused of defrauding customers. Nor has he punished Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who was charged with driving under the influence while possessing a pharmacy's worth of prescription drugs. And no one has forced the Washington Redskins to change their nickname or the Cleveland Indians from using their ridiculous Chief Wahoo logo.
It's odd that this is the event that has brought Sterling's misdeed to the forefront of the sporting world. It's an argument over an Instagram post. Sterling wanted his girlfriend to take down a picture of her and Magic Johnson, because he didn't want someone whom he associates with to be publicly associated with black people.
He didn't explain why he had no problem publicly associating with a woman who was black and Mexican. There's so much cognitive dissonance when it comes to Sterling, whether it's the reconciliation that must be made by anyone who works or roots for his team, or his personal lifestyle and hiring practices with the Clippers that don't seem to jibe with his prejudiced views.
The last part isn't just the grist for a psychological study, it could be what ties the NBA's hands. When it comes to the Clippers, Sterling's track record for diversity at key positions can stand with any team in the league.
In a statement, Clippers president Andy Roeser says "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. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them."
Baylor was one of the longest tenured African American general managers, and the Clippers have hired four African American head coaches (plus two interim coaches) -- including current coach Doc Rivers.
It would take a very nimble lawyer to stretch Sterling's alleged objection to an Instagram account into a workplace discrimination issue.
"This is merely internet salaciousness, which pales by comparison to some of the serious allegations of misconduct that have been alleged against him and his businesses in the past," Douglas said. "The NBA can not legislate to stupidity. I don't think there's anything that can be done. He has the freedom to speak his bigoted mind if he chooses."
What's alleged here is a far lesser transgression than allegedly denying people housing or work opportunities. Certainly the lack of action in the past only encouraged Sterling to maintain his narrow minded racial views.
After he settled the housing discrimination lawsuit, he later bragged to the Los Angeles Times that "I didn't pay a penny -- the insurance company did ... We absolutely denied doing anything wrong, and rather than it going on and on, the insurance company said it would settle."
He prevailed in the wrongful termination suit brought by Baylor. And his past didn't keep stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin from signing long-term contracts to stay with the Clippers. It's been one enabling and empowering step after another.
The most laughable aspect of TMZ's story is Sterling's apparent request that his girlfriend not bring Magic Johnson to any Clipper games. As if the logical next step after taking a picture with him would be to bring him to a game -- or as if Johnson weren't capable of going to a Clippers game on his own.
He doesn't need to worry about Johnson showing up at a Clippers game anytime soon. Johnson took to Twitter and vowed that he and his wife would never go again as long as Sterling was the owner.
And maybe that's the most viable form of punishment. If you're deeply offended by Sterling's views, don't watch the Clippers. It's not as legally complicated as any possible NBA action. It's not as unreasonable as asking the players to boycott a playoff game and dispatch their dreams of a championship just because their owner made foolish remarks.
Don't buy tickets, and encourage others to do the same. Don't watch games on television, which would get the attention of the networks and their sponsors. Put pressure on Sterling, Silver and the other owners through the power of profits (or the risk of losing them).
Or you could leave it to greater forces. Maybe the outrage over all this will distract the Clippers players and derail what has been the most championship-competitive team he's ever had.
To quote Phil Jackson again, there might not be curses or hexes, "But I do think there is karma."