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NBA should make an example of Donald Sterling

The longest-tenured NBA owner, Donald Sterling of the Los Angeles Clippers is under fire for making racist comments to his girlfriend on tape. The tape was publicized by TMZ.com and has the basketball world in an uproar.

Clippers owner Donald Sterling sitting with his girlfriend V. Stiviano.
Photo by Ronald Martinez

Sterling, who is Jewish, was heard on the recording telling his girlfriend V. Stiviano who is black and Mexican, that he doesn’t want her taking pictures with black people or bringing black people to his games.

“Why are you taking pictures with minorities, why?” Sterling says on the tape.

"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?"

"You can sleep with them, you can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is to not promote on that [Instagram], and not to bring them to my games."

One of the black people in question is Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. Stiviano apparently took a photo with Johnson that outraged Sterling. The photo has since been removed from Instagram.

Magic Johnson commented on the Sterling issue via Twitter:

@cjbycookie and I will never go to a Clippers game again as long as Donald Sterling is the owner.

I feel sorry for my friends Coach Doc Rivers and Chris Paul that they have to work for a man that feels that way about African Americans.

LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling's comments about African Americans are a black eye for the NBA.

Magic is right. In the midst of the 2014 Playoffs that have been stellar thus far, this kind of news puts a damper on the best time of the year.

The release of the tape is without a doubt calculated. What better time to expose Sterling when his team is the best it’s been in franchise history and a contender for the NBA championship?

Clippers President Andy Roeser released the following statement:

“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. He is also upset and apologizes for sentiments attributed to him about Earvin Johnson. 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.”

Sure, Andy.

Stiviano is being sued by Sterling’s wife of fifty years, Rochelle, for a home, cars, and monetary gifts that Sterling gave to the woman during their four-year relationship. The suit was filed on March 4, 2014.

The tape being released to TMZ is likely in response to the lawsuit, but regardless Sterling actually said those reprehensible words.

Sterling has long been accused of racism. In 2009 Sterling was sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for $2.73 million for housing discrimination. An owner of many apartment buildings, Sterling refused to rent to blacks, Mexicans, and people with children.

A former property supervisor for one of Sterling’s apartment building’s testimony revealed Sterling’s deep-seated racial hatred. Upon purchasing a building in 2002 Sterling, disappointed in the odor of the building said the following: "That's because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they're not clean. And it's because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day. So we have to get them out of here."

Sterling was sued by for Clippers General Manager and Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor in 2009 for age and racial discrimination. Baylor claims that he was told by Sterling that he wanted, “Poor black boys from the South and a white head coach."

While released and recorded under suspicious circumstances, V. Stiviano’s tape is a godsend. We’ve always heard that Donald Sterling was a racist, but now we have the proof. It’s no longer hearsay, it’s on tape – Donald Sterling is in fact a racist.

The NBA is investigating the tape to determine its authenticity and will likely hand down a punishment on Sterling in the next few days.

"All members of the NBA family should be afforded due process and a fair opportunity to present their side of any controversy," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. "The core of the investigation is understanding whether the tape is authentic, interviewing Mr. Sterling and interviewing the woman as well and understanding the context in which it was recorded."

"We intend to get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible."

The question now becomes what’s an appropriate punishment for Sterling. I echo the sentiments of the face of the NBA, LeBron James who stated that there is no room for people like Sterling in the league.

Major League Baseball forced out former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott for offensive comments about Blacks, Gays, Asians, and Jews. It took seven years of slaps on the wrist to get Schott to sell her team, the NBA can’t afford to wait that long to oust Sterling.

This is a defining moment in Adam Silver’s short career as Commissioner. In a league that’s predominantly black, owners can’t make statements about not wanting black people at their games – its just ridiculous. The majority of NBA viewers are also African-American. Handing down a soft penalty to Sterling will alienate the league's biggest supporters. Adam Silver must make an example of Donald Sterling as not to further tarnish a league that’s taken its fare share of lumps in recent years.

The question is, will he?