Thursday, May 1, 2014

Memo to Magic: What Would Larry Bird Do? By Larry Elder

By Larry Elder, May 1, 2014

Magic Johnson joined the circus in calling for Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, to sell his team in the wake of “racist” comments captured on a secretly recorded tape.

The tape shows a billionaire frustrated with his flirty girlfriend. He asks her not to bring “black friends” to the game, in particular, he tells her not to bring basketball great and Laker legend, Magic Johnson. Racist? Please. This sounds like an unfocused old man jealous of the former Laker star.

Upon hearing the tape, what did Magic say? Sterling must go! Magic said that he and his wife would no longer attend Clippers games, and that someone with such views is disqualified from owning a team. Magic said Sterling should sell:

What would Larry Bird have done?

In 1987, an NBA racial controversy erupted. Had it not been for the maturity and dignity of Larry Bird, it could have grown into something even bigger.

Here’s what happened. After a tough playoff game loss against the Boston Celtics, in which Bird played brilliantly, Detroit’s Dennis Rodman belittled Bird. Rodman said that Bird received undeserved praise because he is white. A reporter then asked teammate Isiah Thomas whether he agreed with Rodman’s assessment of Bird’s talent. Thomas agreed. Were Bird black, Thomas said, “he’d be just another good guy.”

The fit hit the shan! Racism in the NBA -- and coming from black players! Bird, one of the most popular players, demeaned because of his race! Surely Bird is angry at having his skills and hard work discounted as great white hype. What, Larry Bird, media asked over and over, do you have to say?

Many called Thomas’ comments as “racially charged” or “racially insensitive” or even flat-out “racist.” To tamp down the media frenzy, the NBA put on a joint press conference with Thomas and Bird. Thomas said he’d been joking when he made the comment, that he thought highly of Bird as a player. But skeptics felt Thomas’ it-was-a-joke answer was simply an excuse to justify the inexcusable.

Bird was calm and even. He said he didn’t care what Thomas said. But, but, reporters asked, aren’t you upset? Don’t you feel marginalized, even disrespected by those hateful, demeaning comments?

Bird was having none of this. When Thomas said the comment was meant in jest, Bird accepted the explanation. “If Isiah tells me it was a joking manner,” Bird said, “it should be left at that.” He said that he didn’t care what Thomas said about him. ''The main thing is that if the statement doesn't bother me,” Bird said, “it shouldn’t bother anybody.”

In the case of Sterling, he employed a black GM for 22 years. His current coach is black, as are 12 of his 14 players. His payroll is the sixth highest in the NBA. His former girlfriend is a black Latina.

Sounds like Sterling needs to back to Racism School.

Magic could have and should have taken the high road. “I don’t care what Sterling says,” Magic should have said, “and if the stupid comments of some old guy trying to control his sugar baby don’t bother me -- they shouldn’t bother anyone else.”

That would have not only ended this lunacy before it started, Magic could have jumpstarted a conversation about the black victicrat mentality. He could have, by word and deed, shown young blacks that no one can make you feel bad without your permission -- and that people say and do stupid things, always have, always will. Consider the source and listen and think before acting with emotion, Magic could have said.

But no.

Magic played victim. He went BMW -- bitch, moan, whine -- right along with the hang-‘em-high-trial-to-follow crowd. Magic said that Sterling’s racial comments make him unsuitable for team ownership. Too bad. For Magic dealt with learning that he was HIV+ with courage and grace. And that was the time when people assumed Magic was a dead man walking, with limited time to live. Yes, he has access to world-class care, but his positive attitude, doctors say, has been key.

In the case of Sterling, where was that Magic?

He could have handled the Sterling matter the same way. “I could not care less,” Magic could and should have said: “I know who and what I am. I don’t let others define me. I don’t expect everyone to like everyone. Nor do I expect people not to say stupid things -- especially in the privacy of their own home. So, no, call me when you want to discus something important. “ Instead, Magic picked up the race card -- and joined the racial con game.

Bird wins. Again.

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