Pressure is mounting on a longtime National Basketball Association team owner who allegedly made racist comments.
And it appears the NBA investigation into the audio recordings attributed to Donald Sterling, who has owned the Los Angeles Clippers since 1981, is moving swiftly, as the league has promised.
The league announced it would hold a 2 p.m. news conference on Tuesday to discuss the matter.
NBA legends have slammed Sterling and called for quick action by the league. Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson have said that if Sterling did indeed say what recordings posted on two popular news sites seem to suggest, he must face consequences.
Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star and the chairman of the National Basketball Players Association’s executive committee, on the NBPA website called for an “immediate investigation.”
If the recording is authentic, “there needs to be strong and swift action taken,” he said.
Sterling has not commented publicly on the scandal. Team President Andy Roeser issued a statement this weekend that said “what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect (Sterling’s) views, beliefs or feelings.” He suggested that the recording was an attempt by a woman to “get even” with Sterling.
Sterling’s wife, who is suing the woman, gave CNN affiliate KABC a statement Sunday night.
“Our family is devastated by the racist comments made by my estranged husband,” Rochelle Sterling said. “My children and I do not share these despicable views or prejudices. We will not let one man’s small-mindedness poison the spirit of the fans and accomplishments of the team in the city we love.”
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers told reporters Monday that he was offered an opportunity to speak to Sterling after the comments attributed to the team’s owner were posted online, but Rivers said he “passed.” Rivers added, “I don’t think right now is the time or place, for me at least. And so I just took a pass.”
The coach, in his first year with the Clippers, said he believes that Sterling did make the comments but said he wanted to find out if the recording was doctored.
Rivers confirmed the team’s players had talked about boycotting a playoff game but decided against it. Whether the coach or a player will address the fans before Tuesday’s Game 5 against the Golden State Warriors is being discussed internally, Rivers said. The teams each have two wins in the best-of-seven-games series.
Eleven Clippers sponsors have taken action. State Farm, Virgin America, Carmax, Red Bull were among companies to pull sponsorships, at least temporarily, CNN Money reported.
Sterling was to receive a lifetime achievement award at an event next month to mark the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles NAACP, but the national organization said Monday that would not happen.
Sterling had been given a lifetime achievement award from the organization in 2009, according to a brochure obtained by CNN.
Kevin Johnson spoke on CNN’s “New Day” on Monday, saying that Sterling is in a unique position and that any measures taken should consider that.
“When you have an owner, they’re in a position of influence,” he said. “And players are out there working very hard to be good at their craft, to win ballgames, but every time we have a playoff game, there’s dollars to be made. And if those dollars go into the pocket of an owner who doesn’t value or respect players, that is very problematic.”
TMZ posts audio recording
On Saturday, TMZ posted a 10-minute recording of a conversation, reportedly between Sterling and his girlfriend, whose legal name is V. Stiviano. According to the website, the conversation occurred on April 9.
The man seems mad about a photo the woman posted to Instagram with Johnson, now a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“In your lousy f**ing Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with — walking with black people,” the man says.
“If it’s white people, it’s OK?” she responds. “If it was Larry Bird, would it make a difference?”
Bird was Johnson’s chief rival when Bird’s Celtics and Johnson’s Lakers ruled the NBA.
“I’ve known (Magic Johnson) well, and he should be admired. … I’m just saying that it’s too bad you can’t admire him privately,” the man on the recording says. “Admire him, bring him here, feed him, f**k him, but don’t put (Magic) on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.”
On Sunday, the sports website Deadspin posted five additional minutes it said was part of the same audio recording.
Neither website has said how it obtained the recordings. Stiviano’s lawyer’s office said Sunday that she didn’t release the recordings to TMZ but that they are legitimate.
“This office understands that the currently released audio tape of approximately 15 minutes is a portion of approximately one (1) hour of overall audio recording of Mr. Donald T. Sterling and Ms. Stiviano, and is in fact legitimate,” Mac E. Nehoray said in a news release. “Ms. Stiviano did not release the tape(s) to any news media.”
Player protest and outrage
On Sunday, Clippers players wore their red T-shirts inside out, with the Clippers logo hidden, over their jerseys during warmups and while on the bench as a silent protest.
Sterling wasn’t at the game. The Clippers lost 118-97 to the Golden State Warriors.
Over the weekend, NBA royalty expressed outrage, including Jordan who rarely issues public statements on social issues.
“As an owner, I’m obviously disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views,” said Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. “As a former player, I’m completely outraged. There is no room in the NBA — or anywhere else — for the kind of racism and hatred that Mr. Sterling allegedly expressed.”
Johnson, speaking on an ABC pregame show Sunday, said Sterling needs to go.
“He shouldn’t own a team anymore. And he should stand up and say, ‘I don’t want to own a team anymore,’ ” Johnson said.
‘Is that racism?’
In the recording on Deadspin, a man and woman talk about the Instagram photos, and he tells her he cannot change cultural beliefs.
The woman says she doesn’t think the man is racist but the people around him have “poison minds.”
“It’s the world! You go to Israel, the blacks are just treated like dogs,” the man says.
He says there are white Jews and black Jews, and they are treated 100% differently.
“And is that right?” the woman asks.
“It isn’t a question — 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,” the man replies.
When the woman says she doesn’t share the man’s views about race, he tells her: “Well, then, if you don’t feel — don’t come to my games. Don’t bring black people, and don’t come.”
The woman, who says she is of mixed race, reminds him that most of his team’s players are African-American.
“I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Do I know that I have — who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game?”
The woman compares racial discrimination to the Holocaust.
“And you’re Jewish. You understand discrimination,” she says.
The man disagrees with the analogy and says that what he’s talking about is not discrimination.
“There’s no racism here. If you don’t want to be walking into a basketball game with a certain person, is that racism?” the man says.
Investigation under way
Silver, the NBA commissioner, has said the league’s investigation will move “extraordinarily quickly but has not speculated on possible punishment for Sterling, who has never been disciplined by the NBA before.
Roeser suggested Saturday that a woman — whom he didn’t mention by name — was “getting even” with Sterling over a lawsuit.
Rochelle Sterling filed a lawsuit last month against Stiviano, who she said was having an affair with her husband.
In the complaint, Rochelle Sterling accuses Stiviano of targeting extremely wealthy older men. The suit claims that Donald Sterling used the couple’s money to buy Stiviano a Ferrari, two Bentleys and a Range Rover and that Stiviano took possession of a $1.8 million duplex through fraud. Sterling also gave her nearly $250,000 in cash, the court document says.
Stiviano countered in another court document that there was nothing wrong with Donald Sterling giving her gifts and that she never took advantage of the Clippers owner, who made much of his fortune in real estate.
Speaking about the recording, Roeser said, “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.’ ”
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