There has to be a public relations firm involved somewhere. Maybe it has a name like Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Communications. Or Bright Side Up Inc. Something snappy. Or maybe it has a corporate name like Smith, Smith, Smith, Brown and Glockenspiel. Or maybe there is a single PR guy -- Hollywood is filled with single PR guys, important characters in show biz life all the way back to when Fatty Arbuckle had all that legal trouble -- who has a big staff and knows how to handle sketchy situations. There has to be something or someone. Has to be.
Donald Sterling has been walking around doing what he has been doing for a long time. There have to be people who have walked behind him for that long time with a shovel and a broom as if they were following a circus elephant on parade.
"Red alert!" these PR people had to shout as lights flashed, horns sounded this past weekend. "All hands on deck."
"May Day," they had to shout. "May Day. May Day. May Day."
Last Friday, the day before Donald's 80th birthday, his life as he knew it exploded all over the cyber-verse. As the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers since 1981, 33 years in all, senior owner in the entire NBA, he has been a consistently controversial character, trailed by allegations of racism, sexism and a generally scummy business approach. Awfulness has been a basic part of his modus operandi. With his tanned saddlebag face, his wide-open shirt, his proudly profligate lifestyle, he has been one of those rich guys whose name alone made you want to take a shower.
On Friday, allegations arrived that made you want to use a couple of extra bars of soap. In an alleged taped conversation a few weeks ago with V. Stiviano, age 31, his girlfriend of the moment, he blurted out some opinions on her relationships with African Americans. These were not nice opinions and when they somehow found their way onto TMZ, the gossip site, well, that was when the explosion took place.
"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people," Donald apparently says. "Do you have to?"
"You can sleep with [black people]," he apparently adds. "You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games."
"I'm just saying in your lousy f--- Instagrams," he apparently adds again, "you don't have to have yourself with, walking with black people.'
The reaction was immediate. The idea that this guy who owns a professional basketball team filled with African-American players would not want African Americans to come to the team's games was staggering. All of his past sins came back to join these new sins.
"Remember when our guy told Elgin Baylor that he wanted "to fill his team with poor black boys from the south and a white head coach?'" the PR people had to ask. "That's nothing compared to now."
"Remember when some of the black players protested because our guy would take his girlfriends in the locker room?" other PR people had to reply. "He would point out the players' manly black bodies to the girlfriends. Made everyone cringe?"
"Remember when he said he didn't want to rent to black tenants (in his apartment buildings) because 'they smell and attract vermin?'" other PR people had to add. "Said he didn't like to rent to Mexican men because they 'smoke, drink, and just hang around the house?' Those were LA stories pretty much. This is different. The whole world is watching."
You could hear the phones ringing in the PR office all weekend long. You could hear voices reading reports off twitter, TMZ, reports from everywhere. A tsunami of outrage arrived, bigger than anyone could imagine.
Magic Johnson says he and his wife will never attend another Clippers game as long as Donald Sterling is the owner! Wait, Magic Johnson says he will buy the team from Donald Sterling! That would take care of the problem! Wait. Charles Barkley has something to say. LeBron James. Wait. Here's Snoop Dogg. He has something to say. Well, wait, maybe that shouldn't be printed out. Here's Lil Wayne. He has something to say.
"If I was a Clipper fan, I wouldn't be one any more," Lil Wayne says. "But if I was a Clipper player, a current Clipper player, you wouldn't see me anymore in that uniform."
Here's Al Sharpton. There's Jesse Jackson. Here's Michael Jordan. There's Adam Silver, the new Commissioner of the league. Here … wait a minute. Here's Barack Obama, President of the United States. Assessing the situation from Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.
"When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you really don't have to do anything," the President says. "You just let them talk."
The team debates whether or not to show up for its playoff game in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night. Team decides to play, but protests by piling warm-up uniforms in a clump in the middle of the floor and wearing its warm-up shirts inside-out. Team plays terrible, loses to Golden State. Coach Doc Rivers says he slept for about 45 minutes leading up to Game 4. Says he feels bad for team. Sounds as if he feels bad for self. Says he doesn't know if he will be back next year. Says he has no plans to talk to Sterling. No plans at all.
Newspapers and television outlets and web sites across country call for Sterling to be removed as owner. Stories are written about how this could happen. Other stories written about how it could not happen. Story appears that V. Stiviano apparently has 100 hours of Donald Sterling on tape.
One hundred hours?
"Money always has worked in the past," the PR people have to say. "Money has been the big eraser in this guy's entire life."
"Well, money ain't going to work now," the PR people also have to say. "This is the ultimate public relations nightmare."
There never has been anything like this. The broom and the shovel aren't going to do the job this time.