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Column: A tawdry tale as old as time

Clippers owner Donald Sterling sits courtside during a game against the Detroit Pistons at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Getty Images (2010)

Clippers owner Donald Sterling sits courtside during a game against the Detroit Pistons at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Race is, hands down, the most repulsive aspect of the Donald Sterling scandal. But sex is a close second. To listen to the taped conversation between the octogenarian owner of the Los Angeles Clippers and the 30-something V. Stiviano is to glimpse the tawdry and inherently unequal arrangement between — well, let's put it primly, benefactor and recipient.

The Sterling-Stiviano deal appears to involve a transaction as old as time. We've seen it before, yet we rarely see inside it, in such unvarnished, ugly form.

Just look at the photos of the pair, courtside, and you know what's up. Sterling, puffy-faced and unattractive; old enough to be Stiviano's grandfather, no less her father; but powerful and, perhaps more relevant, fabulously rich.

Stiviano, striking in a Cosmo girl way, with a Mexican/African-American background that makes Sterling's reported aversion to having her associate with — or, more precisely, appear on social media to associate with — African-Americans all the more bizarre.

They met, according to a lawsuit filed against Stiviano by Rochelle Sterling, Sterling's wife of more than 50 years, at the 2010 Super Bowl. Donald Sterling allegedly proceeded to shower Stiviano with luxuries: a 2012 Ferrari, two Bentleys, a 2013 Range Rover, a $1.8 million home, and $240,000 in living expenses.

All, Rochelle Sterling alleges, paid for out of community property funds, which she would like back, thank you very much.

Interestingly, this wasn't the Sterlings' first foray into return-to-giver litigation. A decade earlier, Donald Sterling sued another former mistress for return of property.

"It was purely sex for money, money for sex, sex for money, money for sex," Sterling recounted in a deposition. "I wasn't giving her money without performing something for me. And if it wasn't good, I wouldn't give her anything."

His use of endearments, Sterling added, was meaningless: "If you are having sex with a woman you are paying for, you always call her honey because you can't remember her name."

Nice.

In the current lawsuit, Stiviano counters, through her lawyer, that Rochelle Sterling knew the score — her husband was "infamous for his gold-plated dalliances" — and ridicules the notion that her "feminine wiles … overpowered his iron will."

Oh, those feminine wiles. Some guys I know believe Stiviano entrapped Sterling, baiting him to say ever more offensive things. Donald Trump concluded the same, telling Fox News that Sterling "got set up by a very, very bad girlfriend."

Certainly, there is a whiff of premeditated manipulation. Tapes don't get made — and leaked — by accident, although TMZ Sports reports that Sterling knew the conversation was being recorded, something Stiviano reportedly did as his "archivist."

What I heard on the tapes — and I'm not exactly predisposed to be sympathetic to Stiviano — was something more pathetic. Stiviano cajoles Sterling, fetches him juice, even as he berates her for failing to comprehend a "culture" that will not accept her consorting with African-Americans.

"Honey, I'm sorry," she says. "Is there anything that I can do to make you feel better? …Honey, if it makes you happy I will remove all of the black people from my Instagram."

Sterling refuses to be placated. He comes off like a cranky, indulged grandpa losing his marbles yet accustomed to getting his way.

"I don't want to change. If my girl can't do what I want, I don't want the girl," Sterling announces. "I'll find a girl that will do what I want."

He knows: Market forces operate in his favor. The supply of beautiful young women exceeds the demand from wealthy trolls.

You could argue that these two deserve one another. Stiviano, with her Instagram photos of Hermes handbags and provocative bikini poses, comes off as the ultimate gold digger. Sterling emerges as a self-pitying buffoon so out-of-touch he does not even realize his own offensiveness.

Their arcs are about to diverge. The audiotapes have destroyed what remained of Sterling's already stained reputation; with the NBA's action Tuesday, he is banned for life and about to lose his team. Meantime, for Stiviano, the reality of modern celebrity means money; even before the story broke, her Instagram feed was full of hashtags with publishers' names. If Stiviano gets the last laugh here, it is hard, listening to these tapes, to blame her for exacting it.

© 2014 Washington Post Writers Group

Column: A tawdry tale as old as time 04/29/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 10:12am]
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