NBA Upset that L.A. Team Owner's Long-Known Racist Views Are Getting Publicity

Monday, April 28, 2014
Donald Sterling

Will the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP be asking Donald Sterling for the return of its 2009  Lifetime Achievement Award and its 2008 President's Award now that the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team has been caught on tape ranting to his girlfriend about her being with black people at his games?

Maybe not, but the second Lifetime Achievement Award that Sterling was scheduled to get from the civil rights group next month has been rescinded.

TMZ publicized a tape it received of the married Sterling, who is white, telling his much younger bi-racial girlfriend on April 9 that she shouldn't be “broadcasting that you're associating with black people” although it was OK for her to sleep with them. Although Sterling hasn't had anything to say about the revelation, numerous people have identified his voice and that of his girlfriend, V. Stiviano.

Specifically, he was upset that she posed with Magic Johnson on Instagram and warned her, “Don't bring him to my games.” And while she's at it, she shouldn't be “walking with black people” in Instagrams and stop bringing them to games, too.

TMZ didn't say where it got the 10-minute audio tape. Within minutes of its release, the Sterling story dominated every news, sports and entertainment outlet. Players demanded an immediate response from the newly-hired NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and received one, while players in the league, especially the 12 black players on the Clippers' 14-man squad and the black coach, who are in the middle of a playoff series with the Golden State Warriors.

While Sterling has long been castigated in the press for his franchise's reputation as one of the worst, his ownership style and personal reputation, he has managed to skate on allegations that he was a racist. Granted, his reputation was tarnished when his longtime general manager and Hall of Fame ex-Laker Elgin Baylor likened working for Sterling to being on a “plantation” during a wrongful termination lawsuit.

The suit also alleged that in 1988 Sterling said of his Number 1 draft pick Danny Manning, “I'm offering a lot of money for a poor, Black kid.”  Then-NBA Commissioner David Stern was said to be present for that remark.

But the former divorce attorney-turned-real-estate-investment mogul won the suit and put that ugliness behind him.

The Baylor lawsuit wasn't the first bit of ugliness to be left behind, according to New York Times writer Jeff Pearlman, who interviewed ex-Clipper GM Paul Phipps (1982-1984) a few months ago for a book about the NBA in the 1980s. Phipps described an incident where Sterling met with a prospective coach, Villanova's Rollie Massimino, at the airport “tanked,” “with a blond bimbo” and a bottle of champagne. Massimino later called Phipps and angrily turned down the job, in part because Sterling asked, “Why do you think you can coach these niggers?’ ”    

Sterling settled a housing discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for $2.7 million in 2009. He was accused of refusing to rent to minorities and families with children in L.A.'s Koreatown. A deposition in that suit from one of his employees quoted Sterling as saying that blacks “smell, they're not clean,” and that Mexicans “just sit around and smoke and drink all day,” according to Phil Taylor at Sports Illustrated.

The NBA commissioner's initial response was measured—no rush to judgment until he's interviewed Sterling and his girlfriend, but he won't be attending Clipper games anytime soon. Others were not so reticent. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said, “These statements are offensive and despicable and have no place in Los Angeles. I urge the NBA to act swiftly.” He did not suggest a course of action.

Magic Johnson tweeted that he and his wife won't attend Clipper games until Sterling sells the team. Rapper Snoop Dogg called him a “racist piece of shit” and that was one of the nicer things he had to say.

Like the recent flap over racist Nevada cowboy Cliven Bundy—surrounded by armed militia and refusing to pay federal grazing fees—this media circus has more than one ring. Sterling's wife, who is not suing him for divorce, is suing V. Stiviano for $1.8 million over the condo, cars and cash he gave his girlfriend of four years. She called Stiviano a “gold-digger,” according to the Times. The lawsuit also alleges that Stiviano goes by the names, Vanessa Maria Perez, Monica Gallegos and Maria Valdez and perhaps others.

The Clippers played, and got slaughtered, Sunday after silently protesting their boss by wearing their jerseys inside out, obscuring the team name, during warmups. Another five minutes of tape were released to give it context that changed no one's opinion of Sterling, Stiviano's attorney said the tape is one hour long and her client didn't release it to the media.    

City Council President Herb Wesson implied this whole fiasco wouldn't have happened if Sterling hadn't ditched his wife for a younger gal. “It seems like stupid things occur when old, old men mess around with young, young women.”

But Sterling has been saying “stupid” stuff since before he was an old man. He just has one more new excuse.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

The Eccentric Donald Sterling (by Jeff Perlman)

Today In Donald Sterling Is an Ugly Racist (by Sean Newell, Deadspin)

Time for Silver to Do Stern's Dirty Work with Sterling (by Phil Taylor, Sports Illustrated)

Recording Is Indeed of Donald Sterling, Woman's Attorney Says (by Adolfo Flores and Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times)

Donald Sterling Has a Public Record of Bad Behavior (by Billy Witz, New York Times)

Alleged Donald Sterling Recording Is the Latest in Series of Incidents Involving Clippers Owner (by Kent Babb, Washington Post)

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