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Sterling's Past Foretold Clippers Racism Scandal

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Donald Sterling would love the part of Northern New Jersey I once called home.

My family came from Newark but moved to the suburb of Belleville just to the city's north in the early 1950s. Right around that time, the Federal Housing Authority broke out its pen and redlined much of Newark city proper and refused to invest in mortgages or home improvement loans anywhere within the city. However, the FHA had no problem backing mortgages in suburbs like Belleville, Nutley and Bloomfield and used its powers of persuasion to lure folks out of the city and into recently converted patches of marsh and farmland.

The white population of Newark dropped from 363,000 to 266,000 in the 1950s alone. Manufacturing and service jobs followed and left a poor population jobless and confined to either dilapidated homes owned by absentee landlords or large-scale public housing projects that helped give the city its nickname: Brick City. By the time the Newark riots/rebellion took place in 1967, the city's white population had dwindled to just 46,000.

National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, from basketball for life and fined him $2.5 million for telling his mistress not to have her picture taken with black men, but it was Sterling's other gig as a Los Angeles slumlord (or "real estate mogul," if you'd prefer) that cemented the legacy of his post-World War II-vintage racism. His words cost him support of sponsors including Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD)Carmax (KMX - Get Report), Sprint  (S) and Virgin America before ultimately costing him NBA franchise, but his actions as a discriminatory and repulsively prejudiced property owner cost minority families and the city of Los Angeles so much more.

New Jersey folk stories told by older generations insist that it was the unrest in Newark, Plainfield, Asbury Park and elsewhere in the late 1960s that led to white flight from the state's urban centers. In truth, the process began with the economic shift toward the suburbs well before then and the discriminatory real estate and lending practices that made it possible. It's the reason that Route 22 out of Newark into Union County is dotted with once Newark-based paint stores and Spanish restaurants. It's why a Paterson food market has a secondary location in the green, sprawling western suburbs along Route 46. Paterson itself is covered by a newspaper that overlooks it from a hill in an adjacent suburb that changed its name from West Paterson to Woodland Park -- largely because its citizens would rather live in what sounds like a cemetery than associate with the city that they and their parents left behind.

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