• He fought off a lawsuit filed by his general manager of 22 years, NBA legend Elgin Baylor, who said Sterling froze his salary at $350,000 while spending millions on a white coach.
• He watched his basketball franchise grow in value from $12 million to more than half a billion dollars, all while he was one of the most incompetent owners in the NBA.
Yes, Donald Sterling is a racist, and the NBA, the Larry H. Miller family and everyone else connected to basketball or humanity in general is correct to condemn him. But he would be just another yokel ranting on his front porch were it not for the fact that he had reached that plateau of fabulous wealth that insulated him from having to conduct himself with decency.
That's right. He's a one-percenter.
The antebellum mentality that pervades his recorded conversation is both racist and sexist, and it's clear that in his plantation, he is the owner. He is comfortable with mingling with African Americans at "my games," but he doesn't want "my girl" going there.
The NBA may be able to take him out of the game (although that's not certain), but his worst-case scenario is that he'll walk away with hundreds of millions in profits. It will be money made on the skills and determination of a group of mostly African American men.
But Donald Sterling is less Simon Legree and more Donald Trump. His meaninglessness somehow cannot be escaped because of his wealth. The Donalds get to spout utter nonsense and the world sees a need to analyze it. Meanwhile, infinitely more commendable people walk a tightrope, overcoming constant challenges to improve their chances in life.
Thomas Piketty, the French economist whose work on income equality has brought rock-star attention, recently described the challenge of wealth separation this way to the New York Times:
"Historically, the main equalizing force both between and within countries has been the diffusion of knowledge and skills. However, this virtuous process cannot work properly without inclusive educational institutions and continuous investment in skills. This is a major challenge for all countries in the century underway."
The Sterling example is one of remembering how far we have to go not just about race but about equality. The America we want shouldn't make indecency pay so well.