Clippers owner Donald Sterling - a real estate mogul with a history rich in bigotry - was caught on tape (assuming the voice is proven to be his) making some over-the-top racist comments while chastising his young, mixed-race (part black, part Mexican) girlfriend, V. Stiviano, for posting pictures of herself with black people and bringing blacks to Clipper games: "You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that ... and not to bring them to my games . . . Don't put him [Magic Johnson] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games."
Although NBA Commissioner Adam Silver tepidly promised to investigate, he maintained that "[A]ll members of the NBA family should be afforded due process and a fair opportunity to present their side of any controversy . . . ." (But, as Nancy Armour, writing for USA today, noted, "If Sterling is the man on the audiotape, Silver should ban him from the NBA immediately. And permanently.")
Armour's right - but besides the "fairness doctrine" the NBA's suddenly endorsed, Sterling isn't getting a lot of support - from the team members to former and current NBA players to President Obama, he's been taken to the woodshed.
Though largely remaining publicly quiet about Sterling's comments, the Clippers team members staged a "silent protest" (see video) by wearing their warm-up t-shirts inside out to cover up any team logo, and putting on black armbands in a show of solidarity for each other and against Sterling.
Michael Jordan, now owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, objected both as a fellow owner and former player: "I'm completely disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views . . . 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 . . . I am appalled that this type of ignorance still exists within our country and at the highest levels of our sport. In a league where the majority of players are African-American, we cannot and must not tolerate discrimination at any level."
LeBron James: "I've wavered back and forth if I would actually sit out, if our owner came out and said the things that he said. I would really have to sit down with my teammates, talk to my family, because at the end of the day, our family and our teammates are way more important than that. ... But there's no room for Donald Sterling in our league. There's no room for him."
Former All-Star and current Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson: “There must be sanctions that make it clear that the NBA family will have zero tolerance for such conduct. Today, tomorrow, forever . . . Players want swift and decisive action . . . ."
Shelly Sterling, Donald Sterling's estranged wife: "Our family is devastated by the racist comments made by my estranged husband. 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."
Magic Johnson (who was specifically mentioned in Sterling's audioracist rant): ""For him to make these comments, these alleged comments about myself and other minorities, there's no place in our society for it, no place in our league for it. We all play with different races of people, that's what makes sports so beautiful. And then he's put his whole team in a tough situation. Once commissioner Silver does all his due diligence, gathers his information, he's got to come down hard. He shouldn't own a team anymore."
Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob: "Clearly inappropriate. It's very sad that we have to all go through this . . . Hopefully we can get through this and resolve the issues and put it behind us. But clearly very inappropriate behavior. It's just something that I think no matter who you are, racism doesn't belong period, in any way, doesn't matter, black, white, whatever color. Inappropriate. I wish we didn't have to do this today. I wish our game didn't have to be the centerpiece of all this today. I feel bad for our fans and players and everybody who will have to deal with this."
Former Lakers player and radio host Mychal Thompson expects a fan boycott of Game 5: "I think there will be thousands of empty seats . . . He (Sterling) has said he doesn't want black people at his games, so I expect them to stay away."
Lil Wayne: “F– you. That simple, that easy . . . If I were a Clippers fan, I wouldn’t be one any more, it’s that simple. But if I was a current Clippers player you wouldn’t see me on the court any more in that uniform."
Abraham H. Foxman, The Anti-Defamation League National Director: "Commissioner Adam Silver must not only make it clear that there is no place for such racism, intolerance, and hate in the NBA, but also that anyone connected with the League who engages in such abhorrent rhetoric will face serious consequences . . . We applaud those within and outside the NBA who have already spoken out on this issue. It is reassuring and affirming to know that such flagrant racism is so widely regarded as out of bounds."
President Obama: "The owner is reported to have said some incredibly offensive racist statements that were published. I don’t think I have to interpret those statements for you; they kind of speak for themselves. When people — when ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk. And that’s what happened here. I have confidence that NBA commissioner Adam Silver — a good man — will address this. Obviously, the NBA is a league that is beloved by fans all across the country. It’s got an awful lot of African-American players. It’s steeped in African-American culture. And I suspect that the NBA is going to be deeply concerned in resolving this. I will make just one larger comment about this. The United States continues to wrestle with the legacy of race, slavery and segregation. That’s still there — the vestiges of discrimination. We’ve made enormous strides, but you’re going to continue to see this percolate up every so often. And I think that we just have to be clear and steady in denouncing it, teaching our children differently, but also remaining hopeful that part of why some statements like this stand out so much is because there has been this shift in how we view ourselves." (Emphasis added).
There will be some who maintain that President Obama - the "Divider in Chief," as tea partiers and right-wingers scornfully claim - shouldn't weigh in on these types of issues. But who better than our president, who has endured six years of racist slings and arrows simply because he was a black man elected President of the United States? President Obama's comments on this issue should resonate, because what we've seen since President Barack Obama was first elected is far more than "the vestiges of discrimination." It's been outright warfare, starting before he was even inaugurated.
This country is, clearly, still divided by race, but it isn't the fault of President Obama, or the Clippers, or Magic Johnson or any other target of racial animus. No, the fault lies with ignorant, white-entitled people like Donald Sterling, and the powers that be who don't address these issues until it becomes an embarrassment.
And now it has. It'll be interesting to watch what the NBA does, now that there's public anger, calls for action, and nowhere to hide the old white racist dude.