Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling will not attend his team’s playoff game Sunday as the NBA continues to investigate an audio recording of a man, purported to be Sterling, making racially insensitive comments.
Two months into his tenure as commissioner, Adam Silver announced that Sterling had agreed not to attend Game 4 between the Clippers and Golden State Warriors on Sunday. Sterling usually does not travel with the team, anyway. Silver cited the need for due process to play out in the investigation, despite the anger that was expressed over the comments. “All members of the NBA family should be afforded due process and a fair opportunity to present their side of any controversy, which is why I’m not yet prepared to discuss any potential sanctions against Donald Sterling,” Silver told reporters in Memphis, where he is attending the Grizzlies-Thunder playoff game.
Silver indicated that “we do hope to have this wrapped up in the next few days.” The Clippers’ next game is Tuesday in L.A., and Sterling typically sits courtside at Staples Center.
Silver took a very measured approach, no doubt considering Sterling’s litigious past and the fact that he’s dealing with a bigger issue with Sterling, the league’s longest-tenured owner. A recording made without a party’s knowledge in California would be inadmissible in court and would make for a weaker case for removing Sterling as owner. After a number of embarrassments, that is likely the end game. For instance, Sterling paid a record $2.75 million to settle a federal housing discrimination lawsuit that included accusations that Sterling and his wife made statements “indicating that African-Americans and Hispanics were not desirable tenants and that they preferred Korean tenants.” And he was unsuccessfully sued for wrongful termination by former general manager Elgin Baylor, who claimed, among other things, that Sterling once said, “I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players.”
Sterling’s comments to his girlfriend, reported by TMZ, brought angry reaction, but the Clippers, who were described as privately furious in reports, maintained a stoic front. Chris Paul, who also happens to be the president of the National Basketball Players Association said in a statement:
“On behalf of the National Basketball Players Association, this is a very serious issue which we will address aggressively. We have asked Mayor Kevin Johnson to expand his responsibilities with the NBPA, to determine our response and our next steps. As players, we owe it to our teams and our fans to keep our focus on our game, the playoffs, and the drive to the Finals.” (Johnson previously had been brought on to help with the search for a new executive director.)
Kevin Johnson, in a statement, said: “The reported comments made by Clippers owner Donald Sterling are reprehensible and unacceptable. The National Basketball Players Association must and will play a very active role in determining how this issue is addressed.
“There needs to be an immediate investigation and if the reports are true, there needs to be strong and swift action taken. I have spoken with NBPA President Chris Paul and will be leading the NBPA in addressing the implications of this serious matter. I will be formally reaching out to the NBA today to determine our next steps. While I originally came on to lead the Executive Director search, this issue requires immediate attention from the players association. I will be keeping Chris Paul, the Executive Committee, and all player representatives informed of every step.”
In a statement released by the team, Clippers President Andy Roeser: “We have heard the tape on TMZ. We do not know if it is legitimate or it has been altered. We do know that the woman on the tape — who we believe released it to TMZ — is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family alleging that she embezzled more than $1.8 million, who told Mr. Sterling that she would ‘get even.’ 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. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them.”
In the recording, the man demanded that his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, delete an Instagram photo of her with Magic Johnson. Johnson tweeted that he and his wife, Cookie, would never attend another Clippers game. “He is also upset and apologizes for sentiments attributed to him about Earvin Johnson,” Roeser’s statement said Sterling. “He has long considered Magic a friend and has only the utmost respect and admiration for him–both in terms of who he is and what he has achieved. We are investigating this matter.”
There were calls for a boycott by players immediately after the recording became public, but Coach Doc Rivers, speaking for his players, said that “we’ve heard all the stuff, the boycotts and all the stuff but we choose to play and we’re going to play tomorrow.” Before preparing for their game, the Clippers met to discuss the recording.
“No one was happy about it,” Rivers said. “J.J. Redick was just as pissed as Chris Paul, and that’s the way it should be. Having said that, our goal is to win the NBA title. We are not going to let anything stand in the way of that. That’s adversity we didn’t want, but we will deal with it internally. … We are not going to share it.”
I have known Doc Rivers more than 20 years. Can’t recall ever seeing him more mad. About what was said, about the timing. Very bothered.— Scott Howard-Cooper (@SHowardCooper) April 26, 2014
Unclear if it will distract players for G4. But Doc noted Sterling already cost coaches time watching film because of team meeting today.— Scott Howard-Cooper (@SHowardCooper) April 26, 2014
The fury of the reaction to the recording was epitomized by a tweet from Kobe Bryant.
I couldn’t play for him— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) April 26, 2014
In Charlotte, LeBron James of the Miami Heat said there was “no place” for Sterling in the league if the recording can be verified.
Sterling is scheduled to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in May.
“If these allegations are proven true, we are extremely disappointed in Mr. Sterling,” Alice Huffman, president of the NAACP California State Conference, said in a statement released by the organization. “Recent remarks like these, and those of Cliven Bundy, remind us that racism is not a footnote of our past, but a reality of our present that we must confront head on. … As the investigation is in progress, we urge the LA Branch of the NAACP to withdraw Donald Sterling from the honoree list at its upcoming Gala. We also suggest that African Americans and Latinos should honor his request and not attend the games.”