Donald Sterling, Los Angeles Clippers owner, was recorded by his mistress making some crude racist remarks. Since then, Sterling's racist comments have dominated the news, from talk radio to late-night shows. A few politicians have weighed in, with President Barack Obama congratulating the NBA for its sanctions against Sterling. There's little defense for Sterling, save his constitutional right to make racist remarks. But in a sea of self-righteous indignation, I think we're missing the most valuable lesson that we can learn from this affair -- a lesson that's particularly important for black Americans.
Though Sterling might be a racist, there's an important "so what?" Does he act in ways commonly attributed to racists? Let's look at his employment policy. This season, Sterling paid his top three players salaries totaling over $46 million. His 20-person roster payroll totaled over $73 million. Here are a couple of questions for you: What race are the players whom racist Sterling paid the highest salaries? What race dominated the 20-man roster? The fact of business is that Sterling's highest-paid players are black, and 85 percent of Clippers players are black. Down through the years, hundreds of U.S. corporations have faced charges of racism, and many have been subjects of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigations, but none of them had such a favorable employment and wage policy as Sterling. How does one explain this? People with limited thinking ability might conclude that Sterling is a racist in his private life but a nice card-carrying liberal in his public life, manifested by his hiring so many blacks, not to mention paying Doc Rivers, the Clippers' black head coach, a healthy $7 million a year. The likelier explanation is given no attention at all.
Let's use a bit of simple economics to analyze the contrast in Sterling's private and public behavior. First, professional basketball is featured by considerable market competition. There's an open opportunity in the acquisition of basketball playing skills. Youngsters just buy a basketball and shoot hoops. There's open competition in joining both high-school and college teams. You just sign up for tryouts in high school and get noticed by college scouts. Then there's considerable competition among the NBA teams in the acquisition of the best college players. Minorities and less preferred people always do better when there are open markets instead of regulated markets.