LA Clippers protest at owner’s alleged racist slur
Donald Sterling barred from attending games after compromising recordings surface
In a sign of solidarity players shed their warm-up jackets together before the game and placed them in a pile at midcourt, revealing red, long-sleeved team shirts worn inside out to obscure the team’s name. Photograph Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
The Los Angeles Clippers, reacting to recordings of racist remarks attributed to Donald Sterling, the team’s owner, took the court for their NBA play-off game Sunday with a statement, one of both fashion and politics. In a silent sign of solidarity, players shed their warm-up jackets together before the game and placed them in a pile at midcourt, revealing red, long-sleeved team shirts worn inside out to obscure the team’s name. And while they wore the Clippers’ blue jerseys during the game, each player also wore black socks and black wristbands.
With her husband barred from attending the game while the NBA investigates the remarks, Sterling’s wife of more than 50 years, Rochelle, sat courtside, across from the Clippers’ bench. She applauded the play of the Los Angeles players.
The recordings of the racist remarks bounced around the globe Sunday like viral aftershocks, rattling the league’s leadership, overshadowing its playoff games and even receiving the attention of President Barack Obama in Malaysia. But the epicenter was at Oracle Arena, where the Clippers played the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series.
The Warriors jumped to a huge first-quarter lead, on their way to a 118-97 victory that tied the best-of-seven series at two games apiece. Players later said that the controversy surrounding Sterling had little effect on the game’s result, but the atmosphere was charged.
The comments attributed to Sterling have ignited a firestorm in the NBA, in which roughly three-quarters of players are black and nearly every owner is white. That it should involve a team based in Los Angeles, a diverse city with its own history of racial problems, but one that has long revered black athletes across the spectrum of sports, only added long threads of complex context.
Audio, first released by the website TMZ, purportedly catches Sterling arguing with a female friend, identified as V. Stiviano, criticizing her for posting pictures of herself online with black men, including basketball legend and Los Angeles icon Magic Johnson.
“Don’t put him on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me,” the male voice said. “And don’t bring him to my games. Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to promo, broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”
The crowd’s cheers as the Warriors burst toward a blowout victory were interrupted at least once by an anti-Sterling chant. A black fan held a sign over his head that read, “I’m black,” while a white man next to him held one that said, “I brought a black guy to the game.”
On Sunday, Deadspin released more recordings, including a conversation when the apparent voice of Stiviano asks about most of the team being black. “I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses,” the male voice replied. “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?”
Stiviano, the woman in the recordings, has frequently been seen with Sterling, a real estate developer. Stiviano identifies herself as Mexican and black, and her recordings of Sterling, apparently against his knowledge, most likely violate California law.
Sterling’s wife last month filed a lawsuit against Stiviano, saying that she owed the Sterlings money because her husband showered Stiviano with millions of dollars’ worth of lavish gifts and money. The news of the recordings broke over the weekend, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Saturday promised a quick ruling, though there was no word from the league on Sunday. It remained unclear just what the NBA could do beyond a steep fine or suspension for Sterling, believed to be 80.
His fortune, according to Forbes, is worth $1.9 billion. As the Clippers’ players quietly went through their usual pregame routine of stretching and relaxing, trying to make the unusual circumstances feel normal, their coach stepped into a warm and crowded room. Within seven minutes, he answered 13 questions about the racist comments attributed to Sterling.
“Racism, injustice of any kind, it should always be front and center, and we should never run from it,” the Clippers’ coach, Doc Rivers, said. “I think we all do a good job running from it. You should never run from it. You should confront it and try to do your best to handle it. I think we are doing our best right now in this case by trying to do that.”
In a meeting Saturday, the team considered all its options, from ignoring the comments to boycotting the game, as some suggested. “Our message is to play,” Rivers said. “Our message is that we’re going to let no one and nothing stop us from what we want to do. And I think that’s a good message.”
When the teams took the floor, Rivers embraced Warriors coach Mark Jackson. The men, who are both African-American, once played for the Clippers. Jackson, like Rivers, said the game should go on. “I see people say, ‘Well, do you boycott?’” Jackson said. “No. You stand up there, and you answer questions as an African-American man, and you sound intelligent, and you carry yourself and conduct yourself to answer and let people know.”
Kevin Johnson, a former NBA player and now mayor of Sacramento, was enlisted by the NBA Players Association to help speak for the league’s 400 players. He met with Silver on Sunday, and said that he pushed to have any discipline meted out before the Clippers and Warriors play Game 5 in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
The players, he said, do not want Sterling present at any play-off games this year. And they want the maximum penalty that league rules allow to be imposed. “The players are not going to be silent,” Johnson said. “That day has come and gone.”
Clippers All-Star guard Chris Paul was asked after the blowout loss whether it was harder to play for the Clippers after the “ugly reminder” of who owns the team. “Nope,” he said. “It’s about those guys in the locker room.”
But he admitted to being nervous about the atmosphere that will greet the home team in Los Angeles for Game 5. Rivers, the coach, worried, too. “We’re going home now,” Rivers said. “Usually that would mean we’re going to our safe haven. I don’t even know if that’s true, to be honest.”
Rivers, who played one season with the Clippers in the early 1990s, took over as their coach a year ago. He acknowledged that he knew little about Sterling’s past with race relations. In 2009, Sterling paid a record $2.76 million to settle a housing-discrimination suit brought by the Justice Department on behalf of African-Americans, Latinos and families with children. Also in 2009, former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor accused Sterling of racial discrimination, part of an unsuccessful lawsuit for wrongful termination.
“Really didn’t know a lot about that, to be honest,” Rivers said. “And probably should have.” Obama added to the dialogue when asked about the matter during a trip to Malaysia on Sunday. He condemned the “incredibly offensive racist statements” and said the words spoke for themselves. “When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything,” the president said. “You just let them talk.”
Magic Johnson, who had considered Sterling a friend, said he was “hurt,” both for himself and all African-Americans, by Sterling’s comments. “There’s no place in our society for it, there’s no place in our league, because we all get along,” Johnson said on ABC. “We all play with different races of people when you’re in sports. That’s what makes sports so beautiful.”
New York Times Service