A quick disclaimer: I’m not much of a sports fan.
Actually, no. In the interests of full disclosure, I fucking loathe professional sports, but “I’m not much of a sports fan” is what I have to say in public so dudes don’t look at me like I’m a communist space alien who eats live puppies.
Point is, I do what I can in my day-to-day life to avoid getting any sports on the rest of my popular culture, but every once in a while, a story from that crass and pointless world comes along that is just too mythically preposterous to avoid.
Cue Donald Sterling.
I’ve lived in Los Angeles for well over a decade, and in all that time I was happy never knowing the name of the racist slumlord who owned the LA Clippers. In fact, if his tacky airhead of a mistress hadn’t grossly miscalculated the public’s lust for schadenfreude, I might very well have gone my entire life without ever learning of Donald Sterling’s existence.
Oh, well. Too late now. It’s been over a month since TMZ released that bizarre bit of eavesdropping, and Donald Sterling continues to be the nation’s devil du jour. I’m totally fine with that. Personally, I think the misogynistic gender dynamics on that recording between Mr. Sterling and Ms. Stiviano are far more insidious than all the hamfisted racism, but that’s an opinion for a different article.
Yes, Donald Sterling is easily hatable for all kinds of reasons, and it’s always nice to see a villain’s legacy go down in flames, but there’s something shady about this whole courtside coup d’état. I call shenanigans. It’s all just a little too convenient, and I’m sorry, but I can’t quite get comfortable with the way everyone is licking their lips and strapping on their knee pads to welcome former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer as the Clipper’s new owner.
All I keep seeing are stories about how Steve Ballmer is the perfect guy to buy the team with his “booming voice and energetic high-fives,” and how word on the street is that Clippers fans are embracing Ballmer as the team’s future owner. Of course, “word on the street” almost always means “carefully crafted public relations narrative,” but that’s beside the point.
There’s this sick notion being floated around that everything is okay now because the evil racist billionaire is out and the cuddly benevolent billionaire is in, and it’s such a steaming pile of bullshit. The idea that Steve Ballmer is somehow any less grotesque than Donald Sterling is absolutely ridiculous.
Both of these guys are villains. Hell, they’re practically caricatures of classic movie bad guys. Donald Sterling is a cartoonish composite of every corrupt string-pulling bossman from every Blaxploitation film ever made, and Steve Ballmer is the boring corporate version of every super-wealthy Bond villain since Blofeld.
Both men represent the very sinister realities of that rags-to-riches American dream an entire generation now knows to be a great lie built on a rigged and rigid class system with no real chance of any social mobility, a lie that nevertheless continues to unabashedly celebrate obscene levels of wealth inequality. We call these men moguls and magnates. We hold them up as paragons of achievement. In a nation of consumer capitalism, these men are considered American nobility, and yet they are anything but noble.
Donald Sterling’s personal character flaws turned out to be glaring under the harsh light of public scrutiny, but let’s not forget that Steve Ballmer has been hailed as the worst CEO ever. In a category teeming with avaricious sociopaths, he wasn’t even any good at his damn job. He founded nothing. He invented nothing. He added no value to the world whatsoever. It seems all he did during his tenure as Microsoft CEO was erode over $300 billion worth of market capitalization from what was once the greatest computer company in the world. Still, the genetic lottery winner who happened to share a sophomore dorm with Bill Gates managed to walk away with a net worth of $20 billion.
Sure, I guess that’s the kind of guy who’d be willing to pony up the gross domestic product of Greenland to be the latest spoiled billionaire with the ultimate status symbol. (Mega-yachts are so 2000. These days, it’s all about owning a professional sports team.) Still, why are we all supposed to be rooting for him? What’s in it for us, the general public? As per usual, absolutely nothing.
How about instead of all screaming, “Sterling bad. Ballmer good. Yay basketball!” let’s all take a step back and realize what’s really happening here: A buffoonish billionaire with money to burn is getting a shiny new toy, and a racist slumlord is making an obscene profit as a direct result of his disgusting behavior.