As Clippers lose a playoff game, pressure mounts on owner Sterling
As the Clippers struggled through a playoff loss in Oakland, the pressure on team owner Donald Sterling mounted Sunday with the release of additional minutes of a racially charged recording and a flurry of denunciations from President Obama, NBA players, fans and even the NAACP that had sought to honor him.
The comments about blacks that were attributed to Sterling show “the United States continues to wrestle with the legacy of race and slavery and discrimination,” said Obama during a visit to Malaysia. “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.”
Two websites posted recordings over the weekend that they identify as a conversation between Sterling and a female friend. A person the websites identified as Sterling can be heard castigating the friend for associating with blacks — even though Sterling’s team and the league it plays in are 80% African American.
The NBA is investigating the remarks, which have yet to be authenticated, and a decision on possible punishment for Sterling is expected soon. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA player who serves as an advisor to the league’s players union, said the harshest possible sanctions must be considered by the league.
A lawyer for the woman, V. Stiviano, said Sunday that the tapes were “legitimate” and that they came from a conversation that was roughly an hour long. The lawyer said his client didn’t leak the recording to the media.
As the league delves into the matter, calls to punish the 80-year-old owner are growing within NBA ranks. The Clippers themselves took the lead in repudiating Sterling. Before Sunday’s game, they took off their warm-up tops and tossed them in unison near the jump-ball circle, revealing their shooting shirts turned inside-out to hide the Clippers logo. They wore black wristbands and black socks.
NBA legends continued to chime in.
“I’m completely outraged,” said a statement from Michael Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, echoing sentiments made by NBA star LeBron James, former All-Star Charles Barkley and Lakers legend Magic Johnson a day earlier. “There is no room in the NBA — or anywhere else — for the kind of racism and hatred that Mr. Sterling allegedly expressed.”
Also, the L.A. chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People announced that it would not give Sterling a lifetime achievement award he was scheduled to receive next month.
Sunday’s extended version of the recording — nearly six extra minutes released by Deadspin that add to the roughly 10 minutes the gossip site TMZ made public Friday night — appeared to worsen matters for Sterling.
After discussing Stiviano’s Internet posting of pictures with Magic Johnson and Dodgers star Matt Kemp, the person Deadspin identified as Sterling tells her, “Don’t come to my games. Don’t bring black people and don’t come.”
They bicker for a while, and then the male voice tells her: “It’s the world. You go to Israel, the blacks are treated like dogs.”
“And are the black Jews less than the white Jews?” Stiviano asks.
“A hundred percent,” he says.
“And is that right?” Stiviano asks.
“It isn’t a question,” he replies. “We don’t evaluate what’s right and wrong, we live in a society. We live in a culture, we have to live within that culture.”
He adds that he can’t change the culture. Of himself, he says: “I don’t want to change.”
He can again be heard continuing to castigate Stiviano for associating with African Americans.
Later, Stiviano, who describes herself as black and Mexican, asks if he’s even aware that his team is mostly black.
“Do I know?” he says. “I support them and give them food, and clothes and cars and houses.”
Obama, an ardent NBA follower, was asked about the matter during a news conference with the Malaysian prime minister. “The United States continues to wrestle with the legacy of race and slavery and discrimination,” the president said.
“We’ve made enormous strides,” he added, “but you’re going to continue to see this percolate up every so often.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league may conclude its investigation in the next few days. He wouldn’t say what the league might do if the recording is authenticated, but penalties are likely to include fines or a suspension from operating the team.
Sterling has yet to comment about the recording.
Before the start of the team’s 118-97 loss to Golden State, Clippers fans filing into Oakland’s Oracle Arena uniformly criticized Sterling and most demanded a public apology. Some said they didn’t wear their Clippers gear for fear of inciting animosity. One woman in a team jersey carried a sign denouncing Sterling.
“I don’t think Sterling should be allowed to be an owner of a basketball team if what he said is true,” said Tom Fencher, a businessman who drove with his daughter from Fullerton to the Bay Area for Sunday’s game.
“He’s a jerk, but I love the Clippers,” said Jillian Fencher, 28, echoing a sentiment heard repeatedly from fans of the long-moribund team: condemnation for Sterling balanced by support for Clippers players and coaches.
Sunday’s playoff game unfolded uneasily for fans who’ve watched the team rise from league doormat to NBA title contender, coming off its best regular season ever. The team got off to a poor start against the Warriors, trailing by as many as 24 points before making several comebacks that fell short.
While Sterling stayed away from the arena, his wife, Rochelle, watched from a courtside seat but did not grant an interview. She issued a statement that said: “I do not condone those statements that you heard. I do not believe in them. I am not a racist. I never have been, never will be. The team is the most important thing to my family.”
Andy Roeser, the club president, released a statement over the weekend that questioned the recording’s authenticity and said that Stiviano was a defendant in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit brought by Sterling’s wife.
In L.A. restaurants, bars and churches — and even in Oakland as the Clippers tried to keep their season together — Sterling dominated the conversation as much as the game.
“Wake up, Donald Sterling, wake up,” said an impassioned David Lesley, watching the game at a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in the predominantly African American Crenshaw district. The 40-year-old actor noted that the Clippers discussed admonishing Sterling by not playing Sunday’s Game 4 of the playoff series.
“I hate the very idea of this owner putting his young players in a position to choose between chasing their dreams on the court or standing up in defense of their own dignity…,” Lesley said. “How dare he make them wonder whether they should play their hearts our or sit out the game because the owner doesn’t want to associate publicly with African Americans or other minorities?”
Sahagun and Streeter reported from Los Angeles and Dolan from Oakland. Times staff writers Gale Holland, Howard Blume, Angel Jennings and Adolfo Flores contributed to this report.
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