Don’t Knock V. Stiviano’s Gold-Digging Hustle

She Matters: The woman at the center of the Donald Sterling scandal isn’t selling herself short.

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Los Angeles Cilppers owner Donald Sterling and V. Stiviano during Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference Finals at the AT&T Center May 19, 2013, in San Antonio

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Like every other adult with Internet access, I’ve been following the Donald Sterling saga since TMZ released the hidden recording of his racist rants on Friday night. Over the past many days, it’s all anyone seems to talk about. Surely, recently departed Scandal co-star Columbus Short is somewhere thanking the gods for taking the attention off him.

I’ve taken to calling this whole affair As the Plantation Turns (which I can’t take credit for). The unique cast of characters—the geriatric billionaire racist sugar daddy, his not-so-estranged wife and the biracial mastermind mistress; the guest appearance by basketball legend, businessman and HIV activist Magic Johnson (who was unfairly dragged into all this mess); and the setting of professional basketball during the high-stakes playoffs are better than anything a novelist could create. This all lends credence to the popular joke that sports are reality TV for men. 

At the heart of this drama is V. Stiviano—a mysterious woman who apparently has gone by several different names—whose voice is heard on the TMZ tapes that started this whole debacle. So the story seems to go like this: Sterling’s billionaire wife was angry that her husband spent around $2 million on gifts for his lady “friend” of four years, a woman young enough to be his granddaughter. The Los Angeles Times reports that over four years, Sterling bought Stiviano four luxury cars and a $1.8 million duplex home in Stiviano’s name and gave her $240,000 in “living expenses.”

The wife wanted the gifts returned. Now, this amount is chump change to a billionaire family. This wasn’t about the money—it was about principle, maybe jealousy. Maybe both or even more. (To be clear: I find no fault with the wife about this.)

Stiviano refused to give back her goods. The wife sued. Suddenly, tapes of Sterling’s wildly racist beliefs went public. It’s a pretty perfect revenge, although Stiviano—through her lawyer—denies releasing the tape.

For all of this, Stiviano—who allegedly has more than 100 hours’ worth of tapes and, according to TMZ, would take a cushy settlement with Sterling to keep them from being heard—has been called a gold digger (and much, much worse). People talk of this particular arrangement between two consenting adults like it’s a bad thing.

The only bad parts here are Sterling’s marital status and Stiviano’s exceptionally high tolerance for enduring his racism. For clarity, she’s nobody’s hero here, and if it makes anyone feel better to call her morally corrupt, so be it. Just don’t say it’s because she went after the money.

So-called gold digging isn’t for me. It requires a unique disposition—a high tolerance for BS—that I don’t have. But that doesn’t make Stiviano, or any other woman who’s clearly in a relationship for the money, any worse than the man providing the “gold.”

Here’s the thing: Both parties know what’s going on in these situations. Men who flaunt their money like a peacock’s plumage do so to attract women who like said money. In exchange for “gifts” and an upgraded lifestyle, the woman offers her looks and companionship and alternately overlooks and strokes the man’s ego—the literal one and the Beyoncé version. It’s an exchange of services in which parties use and utilize each other and consider it a fair exchange, at least until things go south.

In this particular arrangement, Stiviano got access to cars, money and a pricey home that may have otherwise eluded her. And 80-year-old Sterling got a P.Y.T. who wouldn’t have looked in his direction, much less touch him, if he weren’t sitting on a billion. Both parties got what they wanted here.