Displaying an unprecedented unified front against racism, NBA players, past and present, are leading the charge against Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling in light of his alleged anti-Black statements that were caught on tape and released by TMZ on April 25.
“This is a very serious issue which we will address aggressively,” said Chris Paul, president of the National Basketball Players Association and, incidentally, the Clippers’ point guard. The Association is calling on the NBA to bar Sterling from all playoff games this season. They also want a full reckoning of the past accusations of discrimination against Sterling, an explanation of whatever disciplinary measures are decided upon, close involvement in the process and a swift resolution.
Paul and his Clippers teammates held a silent but emphatic protest at their April 27 game against the Golden State Warriors, piling their warm-up uniforms at center-court and wearing their shirts inside-out to hide the team’s logo.
Other protests were much more vocal, as was Sterling—if it is indeed his voice heard on the 9-minute tape railing at his girlfriend V. Stiviano for associating with African Americans after she posted a photo on Instagram posing with Magic Johnson.
"It bothers me a lot that you want to…broadcast that you’re associating with Black people. Do you have to?" Sterling allegedly complains. “You can sleep with them. 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.”
The voice continues, "…Don't put him [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."
In an extended version of the recording acquired by the website Deadspin, Sterling allegedly continues the racist rant.
This time, when Stiviano, who is part-Black and Mexican, questions his prejudice and asks him if he is aware that his entire team is Black, Sterling responds: “You just, do I know? 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? Is there 30 owners that created the league?”
The leaked tape set off an atomic bomb within the sports world with Sterling at the epicenter.
Many basketball players took to social networks to voice their opinions.
“Sterling basically articulated Plantation Politics…Make money off the Bucks/Lay with the Women/No Association in Public good or bad,” Indiana Pacers forward David West said on Twitter.
Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant opined, “I couldn't play for him.”
The Miami Heat’s LeBron “King” James was even more outspoken, telling reporters Sterling’s supposed statements were “unacceptable in our league.”
“It doesn't matter if you're White, Black, Hispanic, whatever, all across the races.
It's unacceptable,” he said. "And for an owner to come out and say the things that he said, it's very disrespectful, and very appalling…. I believe in the NBA. And they have to do something, do something very fast, quickly, before this gets out of hand. Like I said, there's no room for Donald Sterling in our league.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, at a press conference April 26, called the statements attributed to Sterling “offensive and disturbing” and vowed to get some answers as “quickly as possible.” But he stopped short of offering immediate judgment, saying Sterling, who owned the franchise for three decades, deserves due process.
Many were not as magnanimous, saying the NBA should bring down the hammer against Sterling, who has a long history of racist behavior, or that Sterling, himself, should resign.
NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was a Clippers special assistant coach in 2000, told CNN: "I know him. I know his voice. I am not surprised by this very much."
He added in a statement quoted by MSNBC, “Donald Sterling’s recent comments confirm that he is guilty of the systematic racism that he’s been accused of for the past 14 years. The best possible outcome would be for him to voluntarily give up his franchise so a new owner who reflects the values of America can take over.”
Charles Barkley, speaking at the half-time of Game 4 between the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks on TNT called this situation the “first test of Adam Silver.”
“You can't have this guy making statements like that. [Silver] has to suspend him and fine him immediately,” Barkley said. “…When you're in a position of power, and you can take jobs and economic opportunities from people, that's what crosses the line. We can't have an NBA owner discriminating against a league — we're a Black league.”
Magic Johnson, who became an unwitting star in the drama, expressed hurt over Sterling’s alleged sentiments about him and other African Americans and over the incident’s impact on the Clippers’ players during an already tense playoff season.
“I had a friendship with him. So for him to then make these comments, or alleged comments, about myself and other African-Americans and minorities – there is no place in our society for it and there’s no place in our league because we all get along,” Johnson said April 27 on ABC’s “Nba Countdown.” He later added, “I’m going to say what I’ve been saying all along – he’s got to give up the team. If he doesn’t like African-Americans – he’s in a league that’s over 70 percent African-American. When you have the president of the United States saying that this is bad and you have all the fans all around the country of different races saying its bad, it’s time for him to exit.”
Basketball legend Michael Jordan, a five-time NBA MVP as a player and the current owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, offered a unique perspective on the racist comments.
"As an owner, I'm obviously disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views," Jordan said in a statement April 27.
“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. 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."