Column: Cast his hate to the wind, NBA

Clippers' owner Donald Sterling before the start of their game against the Denver Nuggets.
(Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times)

The saddest thing about this latest glimpse into Donald Sterling’s soul isn’t that the picture is swathed in ignorance and hate.

The saddest thing is that we’ve seen it before.

One didn’t need to wake up Saturday morning and click on the TMZ-released unverified audio of a racist rant said to be by Sterling to know that the owner of the Clippers is, in fact, a racist. One didn’t need to hear him chide a female friend for “associating with black people” and asking her “not to bring them to my games” to know that he is filled with a bigotry as insidious and immovable as his Staples Center courtside seat.

This is a not a one-day story, this is a 30-year saga of intolerance documented by alleged racist quotes, sworn testimony and the largest payout ever for a rental-housing discrimination lawsuit settlement.


It is not news that the only thing worse than Donald Sterling’s win-loss record as a Clippers owner is his views on minorities.

The difference here, the hope here, is that the NBA finally has a leader with enough guts to finally take Sterling down. Where David Stern once cowered, new Commissioner Adam Silver must strike.

Assuming the tape is authentic, Sterling needs to be suspended from the team’s daily operations immediately. He needs to be pulled out of that courtside seat from where he once heckled his own players. He needs to be banned from the locker room where he reportedly once told women guests to “look at those beautiful black bodies.” He needs to be locked out of a front office where Elgin Baylor once claimed his former boss had a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude.”

The NBA needs to run Sterling out of his office the way Major League Baseball twice ran Marge Schott out of her office for expressing racist views, as she was stripped of her ownership duties of the Cincinnati Reds during the 1993 season and from 1996 through 1998.

According to a statement released by the Clippers on Saturday afternoon, “Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect, his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes, and how he has lived his life.”

Yet there are reams of documents indicating otherwise. Columns here and elsewhere have long pleaded for the NBA to take action on a man who, according to sworn testimony, once said of his apartment tenants, “. . . all of the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean.” This same man also allegedly said, “I don’t like Mexican men because they smoke, drink and just hang around the house.”

There is a feeling the NBA powers have long ignored Sterling because the Clippers were easy to ignore, but no more. His recent comments hit the Internet just as his team is hitting the national radar after its best regular season in club history and with its exciting first-round playoff series with the Golden State Warriors.

The Clippers lead the series two games to one, and are considered title contenders with a championship coach in Doc Rivers and stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.

The team was angry upon hearing Sterling’s comments, and held a vocal meeting to discuss everything from protests to boycotts, but eventually decided to keep playing basketball and let their coach speak for them.

“It upsets all of us . . . but we’re going to let the due process -- everything -- get handled and that situation will be dealt with later,” Rivers said to reporters Saturday, later adding, “Why should we let someone’s comments stop what we’re trying to do?”

A boycott would have been counterproductive. The best statement here for the Clippers would be to honor the rich contracts Sterling gave them and play well enough to eventually take more of his money.

“Right now this game is business for us and we’re trying to win a title and we’re not going to allow something to get in the way,” Rivers said.

The biggest negative effect of Sterling’s recent behavior isn’t something the Clippers will feel this weekend, or even this spring, but something that has affected them for much of his 30 years in Los Angeles.

Their recent successes have generated little buzz, their players are booed when shown on the video board at Dodger Stadium, it seems like most folks in town are actually cheering against them . . . because, down deep, nobody can stomach the idea of a successful Donald Sterling.

They will never be fully respected in Los Angeles because of their owner. They will never be seen as worthy competitors of the Lakers because of their owner. Despite spending millions to make the Clippers competitive, and despite that team filling Staples Center with perhaps the most diverse sports audience in Los Angeles, Sterling has never been able to make them fully embraceable because it is nearly impossible to cheer for him.

In the rant releDBVRu ased late Friday, Donald Sterling purportedly begs his friend not to bring African Americans to Clippers games.

Here’s hoping, finally, that the NBA agrees it is Donald Sterling who needs to stay away from Clippers games.

Twitter: @billplaschke