Basketball Justice

     When the NBA commissioner announced that the Clippers’ owner was banned from the sport for life, folks here at Courthouse News reacted with approval as they watched the press conference live on their computer screens.
     It illustrated a couple things, one being the importance of speed in the delivery of news. Elections, sports scores, ferry boat sinkings, tornadoes — and now NBA sanctions — illustrate the human need for fresh news, the desire to find out quickly about what happened.
     The same is true for big cases. When the Department of Justice filed a fraud action against the big credit rating agencies last year, Bloomberg News and CNS were able to report the news right away because reporters saw the case the day it was filed in Federal Court in Los Angeles.
     The Justice Department had tried to delay news of the case until a press conference in Washington D.C. the next morning. But the department was scooped by its own filing the previous afternoon in Los Angeles.
     By contrast, when state courts like Orange County Superior delay press access to written court proceedings for days, sometimes weeks, human interest dissipates. Why, a reader will ask, are you telling me about old news.
     NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s announcement was not that different from a court proceeding. It was in essence a guilty verdict and a sentence rolled into one. The Clippers’ owner was guilty of racist statements damaging the integrity of the league, violating a clause in a constitution signed by the owners that was previously secret.
     I asked folks at Courthouse News, where we speak freely, what they thought of judging someone based on a recording of personal comments made to a mistress. One reporter said she would have hesitated but for owner Donald Sterling’s history of prejudice, including a court judgment and fine over his exclusion of minorities and children from rental properties.
     Illustrating how blunt such personal commentary can be, one of the female employees explained her position by saying, “That’s what you get for having a side bitch.”
     The Sterling story had come out of gossip site TMZ and then exploded into national news and even international news, that included stories on BBC and the late night Daily Show. But it held special interest at Courthouse News, because the news service pays for a set of Clipper season tickets.
     I happened to be going to the game the evening after Silver made his announcement, and demonstrations were expected.
     But his judgment had dissipated anger over the vestige of plantation-era racism in the owner’s comments, providing a powerful illustration of the social value of justice. The lifetime attendance ban of Sterling emptied the vessel of resentment, forced through its broad, powerful and punitive stroke a return within the populace to a general sense of peace and rough normalcy.
     But the game that night was nevertheless different and will remain a unique experience.
     Because there were no promotions. All the sponsors had rushed to pull out of their deals. The half-court shots, the thunder-sticks, the fan trying to run with a shovel full of dollar bills — all gone, as the car dealers, casinos and insurance companies washed their hands of the owner.
     The game was just the game, allowing an intense focus on the sport itself, only interrupted by dancing from Clipper girls dressed in black leotards as a symbol of protest against the team owner.
     So the fans concentrated on the game.
     And a great game it was with DJ smashing dunks, CP power gliding through the defense for layups and Golden State arch nemesis Stephen Curry quick-stroking three-point shots with the quickness of a snake and the consistency of a machine.
     Watching the crowd around our excellent, end-of-row, lower-level seats, it was obvious why Sterling was such an anachronism to the sport and the city.
     There was black basketball royalty to one side of our seats, families, wives, friends of former and current players, across the aisle from Asian girls sporting embroidered playoff caps, below a set of four white businessmen all in charcoal suits with ties in place, and, in the same row, a group of Jewish men wearing skull caps, alongside Latin kids, a middle-aged Filipino couple and, throughout the stadium, humanity in its myriad forms.
     Our own group from CNS was made of second-generation members of Mexican, Okinawan and French-American families.
     Just about everybody was either drinking beer, chomping on hotdogs or snacking on peanuts and crackerjacks. It was the great American carnival with participants of every color.

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