Donald Sterling wasn’t in a courtside seat Sunday afternoon, where he would’ve had an up-close view of what his coarse words and corrosive opinions did to his Los Angeles Clippers.
The team was drained and unenthusiastic despite a crucial NBA playoff game in Oakland, Calif., against the Golden State Warriors. The Clippers’ most impactful action of a decisive loss came during pregame warmups, when they gathered at midcourt and peeled off their team-issued warmup jackets to reveal red shirts turned inside-out to hide the team logo – a sign of protest against the team’s 80-year-old owner, who allegedly made racist remarks to a girlfriend that were recorded and posted Saturday on the website TMZ.
The report is the latest in a series of allegations of racial and gender discrimination against Sterling, a real estate mogul and the longest-tenured team owner in a league whose player pool is more than three-quarters African-American.
In the recording, a man identified as Sterling scolded the woman, identified as V. Stiviano, for posting to Instagram photographs of herself with African-Americans and for attending Clippers games with them.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people,” the man said in the recording. “Do you have to?”
Later, the man went on: “You can sleep with them, 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.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver asked Sterling to keep his distance from Sunday’s game, in which his clearly distracted team was blown out by the Golden State Warriors, 118-97. Silver said at a news conference Saturday the league would investigate before deciding whether additional sanctions were necessary.
Clippers President Andy Roeser issued a statement Saturday, questioning the legitimacy of the recording and suggesting the audio was leaked for the purposes of revenge. He said the women in the recording is the subject of an embezzlement lawsuit filed by the Sterling family.
“Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings,” the statement read in part. “It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life.”
Still, the ripples of Sterling’s words – and his reputation – spread throughout the nation, prompting responses from the game’s biggest stars and even the White House.
On a trip to Asia, President Obama said in reference to Sterling: “When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything. You just let them talk. That’s what happened here.”
LeBron James of the two-time defending champion Miami Heat said Saturday, “There’s no room for Donald Sterling in our league.” Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant posted on Twitter that he “couldn’t play for him,” and Michael Jordan, the NBA legend who is now the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, said he was “disgusted” by the comments attributed to Sterling.
“There is no room in the NBA – or anywhere else – for the kind of racism and hatred that Mr. Sterling allegedly expressed,” Jordan said.
Magic Johnson, another NBA legend who played in Los Angeles for the Lakers, was singled out in the recorded conversation as someone Stiviano, who is of black and Mexican descent and was believed to be Sterling’s mistress, should avoid being seen with in public and at Clippers games. Johnson responded to the report by posting on Twitter that he would no longer attend a Clippers game as long as Sterling owned the team.
Sterling’s history paints a picture of a man who has let slip bigoted beliefs for years – and has, at least so far, sidestepped major repercussions. He was sued in 1996 for sexual harassment. In 2003 he testified in a separate court case that he occasionally paid women for sex. The same year, Sterling was sued by 19 tenants of a building he owned, along with the Housing Rights Center; they claimed that Sterling’s employees refused repairs to black tenants and frequently threatened to evict them. Sterling settled the case for an undisclosed sum.
In 2009, Sterling spent $2.73 million to settle another suit, this time brought by the Justice Department, which alleged Sterling refused to rent his apartments to non-Korean tenants, preferring that black and Hispanic prospective tenants look elsewhere. The lawsuit quoted Sterling as saying in sworn testimony that “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building,” adding that “black tenants smell and attract vermin.”
Sterling also feuded with Elgin Baylor, a Washington, D.C., native, NBA legend and the Clippers’ general manager for 22 years. Baylor, who has declined commenting publicly this weekend, sued Sterling in 2009 for discrimination and wrongful termination. In the lawsuit, Baylor, who is African-American, alleged Sterling built his franchise with the “vision of a Southern plantation-type structure” and accused the team owner of a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude.” A jury ruled in Sterling’s favor in 2011.
Nothing, though, has attracted attention like the recorded conversation that TMZ obtained and posted Saturday. Some have called for Silver to force Sterling to sell the Clippers, and others have said publicly that, if the voice on the audio is proved to be Sterling’s, he should face significant sanctions.
“The players are outraged, if these allegations happen to be true. They’re just outraged,” Kevin Johnson, a former NBA all-star who was asked by the league’s players’ union to help determine its response to the latest report on Sterling, said during an interview shown during the Clippers-Warriors game broadcast on ABC. “They want swift and decisive action, and they want (Silver) to be extreme and to do the maximum.”
Johnson, the current mayor of Sacramento, Calif., continued: “This is a defining moment in the history of the NBA.”
“I think the biggest statement we can make as men – not as black men, as men – is to stick together and show how strong we are as a group, not splinter, not walk,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said before tip-off. “It’s easy to protest. The protest will be in our play.”