Recorded secretly by his 30-something “girlfriend” V. Stiviano’s iPhone and handed to Hollywood Gossip site TMZ Sports, 80-year-old Los Angeles Clipper owner real estate tycoon and philanthropist Donald Sterling has a lot of explaining to do telling her not to bring blacks to Clippers’ games. Causing an uproar in the basketball world—indeed the entire media—everyone’s outraged by Sterling’s remarks, especially because he’s the longest running NBA owner of a team built largely of black players, coaches and an estimated 45% African American TV audience. According the tape published by TMZ Sports, the recording attributed to Sterling told Stiviano “not to broadcast her association with black people or bring black people to games,” specifically mentioning not to bring LA Dodgers part-owner, LA Lakers Hall-of-Fame player and former Lakers part-owner Magic Johnson to the game.
Sterling’s publicist told the press that the team didn’t know whether or not the voice recorded by his 30-something girlfriend was Sterling but, in any case, categorically rejected that the statements reflect his views toward African Americans. “We have heard the tape on TMZ. We do not know if it is legitimate or has been altered,” said the Clippers Organization statement. “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.’” Whatever shenanigans went on between Sterling and Stiviano, there’s no doubt that Sterling was the voice on her recording. What Sterling was doing with a 30-something with whom he’s consumed in a lawsuit for embezzlement and blackmail is anyone’s guess.
Raising issues of authenticity doesn’t deny the fact that, no matter how intoxicated or impaired at the time of the recording, Sterling spewed out a whopping faux pas. Before everyone wants to tar-and-feather the octogenarian, they should look at the context and get some perspective. “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,” ended the Clippers statement. Sterling’s public mea culpa will have to go much further apologizing to his team, the NBA and national basketball audience. “He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them,” said Clippers’ publicist, getting much closer to the profuse apology needed to undo the crisis.
If you look at the context of S. Viviano’s recording, it had something to do with a spat with Sperling, perhaps jealousy over her involvement with other younger athletes, humiliating the aging Clippers owner. “I will never go tp a Clippers game again as long as Donald Sterling is the owner,” said Magic Johnson on his Twitter account. “Calling Sterling’s remarks a “black eye for the NBA,” Johnsons threw down the gauntlet for newly minted 52-year-old NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who’s under intense pressure to deal with Sterling’s mess. All the Clippers community, especially head coach Doc Rivers and superstars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, found Sterling’s remarks despicable. “On behalf of the National Basketball Players Association, this is a very serious issue which we will address aggressively,” said Paul, seeking to get to the bottom of Sterling’s remarks and how to deal with them.
Sterling’s remarks were especially offensive and egregious considering he’s an NBA franchise-owner, known to heavily employ African Americans in the business. “As far as the comments, we’re not happy with them,” said Clipper Coach Doc Rivers, playing his hand closer to the vest than Magic, calling for Sterling’s head. When politicians or high profile celebrities make racist or publicly offensive remarks, there’s a wide range of reactions from the media and public. When Hollywood actor-director Mel Gibson went into an anti-Semitic tirade July 28, 2006 while arrested for DUI in Malibu, Calif., it took years for his mea culpa to sink in. While Sterling’s remarks were less offensive than beer-bellied Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, they’re taken more seriously given his position as a high profile Beverly Hills philanthropist, real estate mogul and NBA franchise owner.
Given Sterling’s advanced age, he obviously lost control of himself just long enough to cause the latest media hubbub. Watching him run around with a 30-something with whom he’s already embroiled in a lawsuit suggests, at the very least, that the 80-plus-year-old Cal State and South Western Law School graduate isn’t showing the best judgment. “You can’t have a guy making statements like that. You have to suspend him and fine him immediately,” said former NBA player and TNT’s “Halftime” co-host Charles Barkley, putting pressure on Silver to act decisively. Whatever action the NBA front-office takes, Sterling should be properly evaluated for making such irrational comments. All his past philanthropic work deserves more than just piling on for making a stupid mistake.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’d editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.