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Storm swirls around Clippers owner

Recorded racial comments attributed to Donald Sterling draw condemnation.

April 27, 2014|Ben Bolch

L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who for 30 years has presided over the city's second NBA franchise, became the object of national outrage and the target of an NBA investigation Saturday after allegedly making derogatory remarks about blacks.

In an audio recording, released by celebrity gossip site TMZ, a person identified as Sterling argues with his girlfriend, criticizing her for posting a picture of herself on Instagram posing with Lakers legend Magic Johnson.

"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people," Sterling allegedly says, later adding, "I'm just saying, in your ... Instagrams, you don't have to have yourself with, walking with black people.

"Don't put him on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games."

The release of the recording came after the Clippers' best regular season and on the eve of Game 4 of the first-round playoff series with the Golden State Warriors. It touched off a furor, with Clippers fans as well as Miami Heat star LeBron James and other top players criticizing Sterling.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a statement condemning the billionaire, who turned 80 on Saturday.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers was visibly angry at the recording's content and the distraction it caused.

"I think the biggest statement we can make as men -- not as black men, as men -- is to stick together and show how strong we are as a group, not splinter, not walk," Rivers said. "It's easy to protest. The protest will be in our play."

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told reporters in Memphis, Tenn., the remarks were "truly offensive and disturbing" and said the league intended to conduct an investigation into the recording's authenticity that would "move extraordinarily quickly," possibly concluding in the next few days. Silver said Sterling would not attend Sunday's game at Oracle Arena in Oakland.

Silver would not comment what action the league would take if an investigation establishes Sterling made the comment. But it could include a hefty fine or suspension. A demand that he sell the team is unlikely.

TMZ did not say how it obtained the recording. The Times has not verified the recording for its authenticity.

The woman on the recording, who identifies herself as Mexican and black, was said to be V. Stiviano, who is in her 20s and has often been seen at Sterling's side. In a lawsuit filed last month, Sterling's wife, Rochelle, contends her husband showered Stiviano in money and expensive cars, and that he had been having an affair with her for four years.

Clippers President Andy Roeser released a statement that questioned the authenticity of the recording and the motives of Stiviano, who he noted is the defendant in Rochelle Sterling's $1.8-million embezzlement case.

Roeser claimed that after the lawsuit was filed, Stiviano told Donald Sterling that she would "get even." The team executive also said what was stated on the recording "is not consistent with, nor does it reflect [Sterling's] views, beliefs or feelings."

Rivers said he would speak for his Clippers players regarding the controversy. During a 45-minute team meeting Saturday morning, he said, his players voiced their displeasure over the remarks.

"No one was happy about it," Rivers said at the practice court at the University of San Francisco, before alluding to the unity among his white and black players. "J.J. Redick was just as [mad] as Chris Paul and that's the way it should be."

Players considered wearing black socks or armbands in protest during Sunday's game but worried about being viewed as radical. Center DeAndre Jordan posted a black rectangle on his Instagram account and tweeted a link to his more than 426,000 followers.

Rivers said the idea of boycotting a game was raised but quickly dismissed.

"Honestly, I'm completely against that and they were too," Rivers said of his players. "Why should we let someone's comments stop what we're trying to do?"

Sterling has not addressed his team.

Paul, the Clippers point guard and president of the NBA players' union, issued a statement calling the remarks "a very serious issue which we will address aggressively." Paul said he had asked Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA player, to help determine the union's next steps in its response.

Other NBA stars weren't as restrained. Miami's James told reporters in Charlotte, N.C., that "there's no room for Donald Sterling in the NBA." Hall of Famer Charles Barkley called for Silver to suspend Sterling if the recording can be authenticated.

Johnson tweeted he and his wife would never go to a Clippers game again as long as Sterling owned the team.

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

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