Baylor Deserved Better From Clips Owner
After all, Baylor, who is black, worked for Sterling for 22 years as vice president of basketball operations -- a long way of saying general manager -- before resigning last October at 74 years old. And a three-toed sloth can count on one paw how many times the Clippers made the playoffs during Baylor's near-quarter-of-a-century reign.
But if there is one reason other than his infamously miserly ways -- which for so long deprived what fans the Clippers have of any hope -- that Sterling should have had his membership in the NBA owners' club revoked, it is his unseemly business practices outside of the basketball arena.
Sterling grew his fortune in real estate in the Los Angeles area. And in August 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Sterling on charges of refusing to rent apartments to black families and families with children. The Feds said Sterling and his wife, Rochelle, and their family trust not only refused to rent to prospective tenants of color, but also treated those of color they did rent to poorly and misrepresented the availability of apartments to them in the city's Koreatown section. The Feds further alleged that Sterling and his family refused leases to prospective black tenants in Beverly Hills and to families with children looking to rent apartments the Sterlings owned or managed in Los Angeles County.
That came on the heels of a November 2005 order by a federal judge that ordered Sterling to pay nearly $5 million in fees to plaintiffs' attorneys who charged Sterling discriminated against black and Hispanic tenants. The attorneys represented the nonprofit Housing Rights Center and the $5 million judgment at the time was thought to be one of the largest housing discrimination awards in history.
On top of Sterling's distaste for people of color who can't dribble a basketball, shoot it or rebound it, there was Sterling's 2003 courtroom testimony that he regularly paid a Beverly Hills woman, Alexandra Castro, for sex. Sterling's misogyny shown through when he dismissed Castro as a $500-a-trick "freak" with whom he coupled "all over my building, in my bathroom, upstairs, in the corner, in the elevator."
Baylor alleged in his lawsuit that Sterling underpaid him relative to other league club officials with similar title and responsibility. A lot of NBA players unfortunate enough to have played for the Clippers probably could make a similar claim. Baylor charged that Sterling exercised a patronizing attitude toward black players.
It would have been nice, of course, if Baylor had raised these concerns so publicly during his time under Sterling's thumb. "One thing to remember about Elgin," explained Baylor's attorney, former Johnnie Cochran lieutenant Carl Douglas, at a press conference Thursday morning, "he's humble. He's poised. He's gracious. It's not in his nature to rock the boat."
Baylor, a proud and vain man, is hurt by the manner in which Sterling severed ties with him last year. Baylor thought he deserved better after coming to be viewed from afar as a basketball boob given his long tenure overseeing one of the NBA's least-successful franchises in history. Baylor long ago, after all, suffered one of the cruelest ends to a sports' playing career as there has been.
Baylor all but revolutionized the game with his athleticism -- a combination of size (6-foot-5, 225 pounds), strength, speed, quickness, jumping and shooting ability. Long before LeBron, Kobe and Michael, Dr. J and Connie Hawkins, Baylor was playing basketball like a trapeze artist, suspending himself in air and floating to the basket well above the heads of mere mortal hoopers. He could slash to the bucket in a blink and pull-up on that proverbial dime and drop a soft jump shot through the rim.
On Dec. 11, 1960, Baylor became the first player in NBA history to score more than 70 points when he dropped 71 on the Knicks. The 61 he scored in Game 5 of the 1962 NBA Finals is still a Finals record. Baylor was so unstoppable an offensive force that he was named to the All-NBA First Team an astonishing 10 times.
The only thing that could slow Baylor was injury. First he blew out his knee in 1965 and fought forever to regain the ability to score 30 per game with ease. Five years later he ripped an Achilles' tendon and nine games into the '70-71season decided he didn't want to play anymore as a shadow of himself.
The tragedy: the Lakers immediately went on a pro franchise-record 33-game winning streak and won the championship that Baylor never did.
Baylor long has been an aggrieved soul no matter his Hall of Fame induction over 30 years ago. The Sterling treatment must have stung. I can understand Baylor's biting back, and applaud it.
It's always been somewhat baffling how NBA commissioner David Stern, who has been so overtly concerned about his league's image, has let a guy like Sterling remain seated at his boardroom table. If there was one thing Major League Baseball did right under Bud Selig's lead it was to ban Marge Schott from its ranks as owner in the second half of the 1990s for her repeated racially insensitive statements and actions. Sterling should by now have suffered the same fate. Black players who make up three-quarters of NBA rosters should have demanded it.
Maybe Baylor will be Sterling's comeuppance in the NBA.
Kevin B. Blackistone is a panelist on ESPN's Around the Horn, the Shirley Povich Chair in Sports Journalism at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, and a frequent sports opinionist on other outlets. A former award-winning sports columnist for The Dallas Morning News, he currently lives in Silver Spring, Md.