Basketball players are seething, sponsors are fleeing, and the NAACP is reeling after Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling allegedly made racist comments that were caught on tape.
Gossip website TMZ posted an audio recording last week of a man identified as Sterling telling his girlfriend not to broadcast her association with African-Americans or bring them to games. The man specifically mentioned Los Angeles Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson on the recording, saying “don't bring him to my games, OK?”
The situation is the first major test for new National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver, who took over Feb. 1 for the retiring David Stern. Silver said Saturday the league is investigating the recording. Players and officials from around the country are calling on him to move swiftly. Miami Heat star LeBron James asked Silver to take aggressive measures, saying “there is no room for Donald Sterling in our league.” Magic Johnson said he wouldn’t attend Clippers games as long as Sterling was the owner.
James and Johnson aren’t alone. CarMax pulled its sponsorship of the team Monday. The NAACP canceled plans to honor Sterling at a May 15 banquet and said it would return an “insignificant amount” of money Sterling had donated to the chapter. Even President Barack Obama responded to the remarks, referring to the “incredibly offensive racist comments” in a public address in Malaysia.
Clippers players protested Sterling on Sunday by warming up for their playoff game against the Golden State Warriors wearing inside-out shirts to hide their team’s logo. The NBA Players Union is demanding Silver explain why the league hasn’t addressed Sterling’s behavior before.
Sterling’s track record of racial disputes includes at least three lawsuits from Clippers staff. The U.S. Justice Department investigated him for alleged racial discrimination in treatment of tenants in apartment buildings he owns. Sterling settled the investigation for nearly $2.8 million in 2009.
The national outcry, if not the league itself, could force Sterling to sell the team. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported Monday that Magic Johnson and his financial backers, the Guggenheim Partners, might attempt to buy Clippers. Sterling, a real-estate owner, bought the Clippers in 1981. He is the longest-tenured owner in the NBA since Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss died last year.
Meanwhile, more audio may be coming. An employee in the office of attorney Mac E. Nehoray, who represents the woman allegedly on the tape, said the full recording lasts about an hour. Clippers president Andy Roeser said in a statement that the team did not know if the tape is legitimate or has been altered. He said the woman on the tape, identified by TMZ as Sterling’s girlfriend V. Stiviano, “is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family.” She had allegedly told Sterling “that she would ‘get even.’”
Game 5 of the Clippers’ first-round playoff series returns to LA on Tuesday.