What Tech Leaders Can Learn from Donald Sterling’s Lifetime NBA Ban

April 30, 2014

1:48 pm

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m a die-hard basketball fan (let’s go Heat!), and unless you’ve been living under a rock the last week, you would have heard the news that the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers was just banned from the NBA for life for his racist comments made on a recording brought public by popular gossip site TMZ.


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As a lover of the game of basketball, and as a human being that doesn’t tolerate racism or ignorant hatred of others, the news of Donald Sterling’s recording was extremely unsettling to me. Why should basketball players, coaches, executives, and fans have to associate with someone who is as blatantly racist and shameful as Donald Sterling, especially in a league dominated by African American players nonetheless?

After I got over my initial anger and awe of the situation, I thought about ways this monumental ruling meant for the rest of society, and specifically the tech industry. Here’s what I came up with:

Discrimination in the workplace of any kind is stupid 

Right now, the tech industry is struggling with gender discrimination and inequality in all ranks, from the balance of developers in a company to the composition of company boards. There is still a “bro-culture” among engineers, and although the pay gap in computer engineering is smaller between genders than in other industries, women still only make 89% of what men do in the same positions on average in the tech industry. Look back a few months to Twitter’s IPO and we can all remember the company’s struggle to find a female member to join their company’s Board of Directors. And with new sites popping up like Codebabes.com, which – whether as a joke or as an actual business model – uses attractive women stripping clothes in order to teach people how to code, it’s no wonder that women feel uncomfortable entering the tech industry. Fortunately, this is an issue that many tech leaders recognize is important and is in dire need of addressing, but after Donald Sterling was ousted from the NBA for his discriminatory comments on race, it is time for tech leaders to take their actions to another level in order to keep discrimination out of our workplace and society.

Adversity is an opportunity to bring teams, and industries, closer 

When news of Donald Sterling’s racist comments were made public, everyone from players to fans were immediately and rightfully outraged with the situation. Yet, the group that had the most adversity from the situation was without a doubt the Los Angeles Clippers team. How were they supposed to handle the media firestorm while contemplating whether or not they should continue playing for, representing, and making money for their owner who felt so strongly against the race of most of the team’s players? The adversity definitely had an impact on the team’s performance in Game 4 of their series against the Golden State Warriors, but they were able to bounce back with more camaraderie than ever in Game 5 of their series last night, a game which they won in front of an extremely supportive group of fans who were also torn between whether or not to support their team while allowing Donald Sterling to profit from their ticket sales or whether they should vacant the arena in protest, leaving their beloved team without a home crowd. Ultimately, the adversity brought the league, its players, its fans, and an entire country closer together as they hashed out a response to such public racism in this day and age. For tech leaders, this is a lesson in using adversity in your company, industry, or personal lives in order to bring the people around you closer together, a unity which will make you stronger than ever despite the hardships you’ll ultimately go through.




Leaders need to be most vocal in times of chaos 

On Sunday, when the news of Donald Sterling’s comments were made public by TMZ, the first few significant voices to comment on the situation were those of iconic basketball figures like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan. On a day-to-day basis, these gentlemen are accepted as some of the biggest leaders and ambassadors of the game of basketball, and when the basketball world needed to hear from them the most, they were most vocal in intelligently and emphatically expressing their views on the Donald Sterling scandal. Doc Rivers, coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, and Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, also displayed their leadership in full force during the chaos of the situation, helping to ease the league in a time of pain. Similarly, when we heard about how ad startup RadiumOne’s (now former) CEO Gurbaksh Chahal assaulted his girlfriend, industry leaders like Jason Calacanis, Kara Swisher, Dave McClure, and many, many others were extremely vocal on blogs and social media about their disgust for the situation, and all called for RadiumOne’s Board of Directors to fire Chahal, which they did just a few days ago. Such leadership is definitely a proud moment for the industry, and now more than ever, tech leaders need to continue being vocal about problems arising in our industry (like the gender discrimination issue mentioned above), and CEOs, managers, and influencers alike need to continue being efficient leaders, especially in times of chaos.

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Jared Kleinert is the Co-Author of 2 Billion Under 20 (Forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press, 2015), an eye-opening book about how Millennials are redefining success, breaking down barriers, and changing the world, as well as the co-founder of the larger group, movement, and company behind the book. He also blogs around the web, speaks, consults, and hustles (occasionally eating and sleeping too!). Find him at jaredkleinert.com or @jaredkleinert.

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