David Diaz, Senior Executive, Davenport Laroche
Former NBA player Baron Davis has successfully reinvented himself as a champion not on the court, but in the court of public opinion, pushing for the rights of “people of color” as well as women in the media. Since he made the shift from player to advocate, Davis has consistently been asked about his three years playing for disgraced Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Sterling, you may recall, was essentially pushed out of his ownership position team when he was recorded making comments that were widely considered racist. After the recording surfaced, an executive with the Clippers was quoted as describing Sterling “running the team with a plantation mentality.” Those two headlines sufficed to bury the owner’s ability to run his team. The NBA investigated and ruled, passing down a lifetime ban. He subsequently sold the team to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
Davis agreed to an interview with CNN, in which he was asked what it was like to work for someone he believed hated him due to his race. Davis described the feeling as being “on an island,” saying “Nobody was paying attention. This is going on. This man is clearly racist.”
Sterling, Davis recounted, was dismissive, often flatly ignoring his players, including Davis. The player said he was not alone in his observations and often asked himself is continuing to play for Sterling was problematic: “Every day I wrestled with myself. Am I selling out? How am I going to resist and still be able to do what I need to do? How do you find joy in that when you’re working for somebody who hates you?”
Davis confided that he felt Sterling escaped his PR issues with much more than a golden parachute, telling CNN, “Where is Donald Sterling right now? Somewhere enjoying his $2 billion and still being racist and still hating people and still disrespecting people…”
Meanwhile, Shelly Sterling, Donald’s wife, said Davis had them all wrong. She argued that she and her husband were definitely not racist and never had been. She blamed Davis’ opinion on being angry about being traded.
At this point though, all that back and forth has devolved into hearsay. Both Sterling and Davis have moved on, one to retirement, the other to social action. Davis, for his part, is adamant that he represents many high-profile athletes who are revered for their skill but still reviled and denigrated for their skin color. It’s a perspective with both much support and much detraction.
Davis, though, says he’s not backing down, even if his position draws lines. He knows that might happen, but hopes speaking out will heal, rather than hurt: “Athletes we have a voice… sports is the healing mechanism around the world.”