CURATED BY Matthew Yglesias
2014-04-29 23:58:26 -0400
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Donald Sterling is a wealthy Southern California divorce attorney turned real estate developer who also happens to own the Los Angeles Clippers, currently one of the best teams in the National Basketball Association. He's also a huge racist, who's been caught on tape by TMZ apparently chiding his half-black, half-Latina girlfriend for appearing in Instagram photos with African-Americans and for hanging out with Magic Johnson.
This isn't the first time Sterling's been at the center of racism allegations.
In fact, he holds the unusual distinction of having been federally prosecuted for being a racist as part of a housing discrimination lawsuit that ended with him paying millions in damages. And then there was the other housing discrimination lawsuit, the racial discrimination lawsuit from former Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor, the time he asked a prospective coach "why you think you can coach these niggers," etc.
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Speaking to his mixed race girlfriend, Sterling said "It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people." And also "I'm just saying, in your lousy f******* Instagrams, you don't have to have yourself with, walking with black people." And also "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."
You can hear it all here for yourself courtesy of TMZ:
Pretty gross stuff.
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Sterling has been accused of a huge range of atrocious behaviors, from racist rental practices for his Los Angeles area apartments to sexual harassment of his employees. He's privately settled many of these cases and admitted nothing, but between court depositions and public accusations, there's a lot to go on.
Here's a brief overview:
In 2004, Sterling was sued by the Los Angeles Housing Rights Center for discriminatory rental practices. After buying the Ardmore Apartments complex, he attempted to force out minority tenants by refusing to do repairs and refusing rent checks, then accusing them of nonpayment. When told that a 66-year-old, legally blind, partially paralyzed tenant named Kandynce Jones wanted to be reimbursed for the damage to her flooded apartment, he reportedly said, "Just evict the bitch."
The case brought by the Housing Rights Center was eventually settled for an undisclosed sum. The plaintiffs were reimbursed $4.9 million for their legal fees, and the judge described the total judgement as one of the largest ever in a discriminatory housing case.
In 2006, Sterling was sued by the Department of Justice after he allegedly refused to rent to Mexican-Americans and African-Americans in his apartment complexes, reportedly saying that "Black tenants smell and attract vermin." Sterling paid $2.73 million to settle the suit.
In 2009, former Clippers general manager and Hall of Fame player Elgin Baylor sued Sterling for wrongful termination on the basis of age and race. Baylor alleged that for years before his 2008 resignation, Sterling had frozen his salary at $350,000 per year for racial reasons (compared to $5.5 million per year for Mike Dunleavy, the white head coach).
He also alleged that Sterling had a "pervasive and ongoing racist attitude" while negotiating with African-American players, once telling Baylor that he wanted a team made up of "poor black boys from the South and a white head coach." Baylor eventually dropped the race-related accusations from the case, and a jury eventually ruled in the favor of Sterling in 2011.
Sterling is known for hiring dozens of female hostesses for his parties and charity events, reaching them through full-page newspaper advertisements like this one:
In several cases, some of the women later sued Sterling for sexual harassment.
In a 1996 suit, Christine Jaksy alleged that he touched her inappropriately and demanded that she visit friends of his to provide sexual favors. He also asked her to find him a massage therapist, saying, "I want someone who will, you know, let me put it in or who [will] suck on it." Jaksy and Sterling eventually reached a confidential settlement.
In 2003, Sterling himself sued a former employee and mistress named Alexandra Castro over the possession of a Beverly Hills house. The pair reached a confidential settlement, but Sterling's comments under oath as part of the deposition are worth noting: among other things, he explained that "When you pay a woman for sex, you are not together with her...you're paying her for a few moments to use her body for sex. Is it clear?"
— by Joseph Stromberg
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Not if the goal is winning basketball games. In Sterling's first 30 years owning the team, they had a winning record exactly twice. This season and the two seasons before that, however, the team has been good. An awful lot of that has to do with the Clippers acquisition of point guard Chris Paul who's one of the very best players in the league. The team has other top talent including power forward Blake Griffin, but the Paul acquisition was the key. And it was made possible not so much by trading acumen as by a strange decision by former NBA Commissioner David Stern to veto a different deal that would have sent Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Viewed in another light, though, Sterling has been very good at getting rich through his investment in the Clippers. So in a classic capitalist sense, he's an excellent owner. He's just not good at delivering winning basketball teams.
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While conducting a news conference during a visit to Malaysia, Barack Obama spoke out about Donald Sterling:
With respect to the statements by the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers -- for our Malaysian audience, this is a sports team, basketball team in the United States. 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 am confident that the 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 a legacy of race and 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 had been -- there has been this shift in how we view ourselves.
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The labor union for NBA players, the NBAPA, is in a bit of a strange situation. The union's president is Chris Paul, who is actually the star player on the Los Angeles Clippers. And the union lacks a professional executive director in the wake of former executive director Bill Hunter's departure amidst a wave of litigation. In the interim, Sacramento mayor (and former Phoenix Suns point guard) Kevin Johnson has been helping to lead the search for a new ED.
Both Paul and Johnson released statements Saturday.
On behalf of the National Basketball Players Association, this is a very serious issue which we will address aggressively. We have asked Mayor Kevin Johnson to expand his responsibilities with the NBPA, to determine our response and our next steps. As players, we owe it to our teams and our fans to keep our focus on our game, the playoffs, and a drive to the Finals.
And here's Johnson:
The reported comments made by Clippers owner Donald Sterling are reprehensible and unacceptable. The National Basketball Players Association must and will play a very active role in determining how this issue is addressed. There needs to be an immediate investigation and if the reports are true, there needs to be strong and swift action taken. I have spoken with NBPA President Chris Paul and will be leading the NBPA in addressing the implications of this serious matter. I will be formally reaching out to the NBA today to determine our next steps. While I originally came on to lead the Executive Director search, this issue requires immediate attention from the Players Association. I will be keeping Chris Paul, the Executive Committee, and all player representatives informed of every step.
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On the morning of April 28, Al Sharpton announced a campaign to begin pressuring the NBA's corporate sponsors as a way of pressuring the league to take action against Donald Sterling.
Later that morning the CEO of State Farm, a Clippers sponsor who has an ad campaign heavily featuring Chris Paul, said on Colin Cowherd's ESPN radio program that his company will pull its sponsorship of the team.
Virgin America has said they will end their sponsorship of the Clippers. CarMax told Buzzfeed that Sterling's statements are "unacceptable" and "necessitate that CarMax end its sponsorship." AquaHydrate and Kia have also announced that they've suspended sponsorship deals with the team.
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Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, has become the first NBA owner to come out with a pro-Sterling statement. While not defending the substance of Sterling's remarks (he called them "abhorrent"), Cuban argues that there is a "slippery slope" involved in trying to boot him from the league.
I think you've got to be very, very careful when you start making blanket statements about what people say and think, as opposed to what they do. It's a very, very slippery slope. Again, there's no excuse for his positions. There's no excuse for what he said. There's no excuse for anybody to support racism. There's no place for it in our league, but there's a very, very, very slippery slope.
The first strong statement against Sterling from an NBA owner has come from the Vivek Ranadivé of the Sacramento Kings who tweeted:
Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Wizards, echoed Ranadivé in a blog post saying "there should be zero tolerance for hate-mongering."
Michael Jordan of the Charlotte Bobcats, the only African-American owner in the NBA, after initially declining to comment, issued a tough statement Sunday afternoon:
I look at this from two perspectives — as a current owner and as a former player. As an owner, I'm obviously disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views. I'm confident that Adam Silver will make a full investigation and take appropriate action quickly.
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.
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With displeasure, as you would expect. Before Sunday afternoon's games, the Clippers registered their disapproval with the team's owner by taking off their Clippers-branded warmup gear:
The Clippers took off their shooting shirts and dumped them at center court. pic.twitter.com/Nod5QWsWJy— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) April 27, 2014
And then playing with their shirts inside-out to obscure the Clippers logos:
The Clippers have turned their shirts inside out and are warming up in generic red shirts. pic.twitter.com/dUST40wBaO— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) April 27, 2014
When the game started they played with their uniforms on (per league rules) but it's clear that the players are furious and coach Doc Rivers indicated that his future with the team is in doubt if the situation isn't resolved in a satisfactory way.
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The key difference between this and other earlier Sterling incidents is that sports media figures are widely denouncing not just Sterling and his remarks, but the NBA for inaction.
Tom Ziller of SB Nation wrote early on Saturday morning that "Donald Sterling remains a total scumbag, and the NBA needs to deal with it." Over the course of the day, more and more sports writers chimed in with similar thoughts. Kelly Dwyer at Yahoo Sports wrote that "the NBA has to do something about its biggest problem," Sterling. Bill Simmons of ESPN and Grantland as well as a longtime Clippers season ticket holder took to his Facebook page to ask how he could best use his platform on social media and on national television to "pressure the NBA into keeping him away from Clipper home games and making him sell the team."
Magic Johnson, a Los Angeles sports icon, part-owner of the LA Dodgers, and frequent television commentator took to Twitter to express his displeasure:
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.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 26, 2014
LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling's comments about African Americans are a black eye for the NBA.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 26, 2014
The media reaction came to a head when an episode of "Inside the NBA" that was supposed to be focused on Saturday's playoff games addressed the controversy:
The sports media attention has made it impossible for the NBA to avoid some kind of official reaction.
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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced on Tuesday, April 29th, that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling will be banned for life from association with the Clippers or the NBA. Sterling will be prohibited from attending NBA games or owners' meetings, or from making any basketball decisions. In addition, Sterling will be hit with a $2.5 million fine — the maximum allowed by the league constitution.
Silver also said he will urge Sterling's fellow owners to vote to force him to sell the team, but that he lacks the authority to take that step on his own. Taking that step would require the support of 75 percent of NBA owners.Silver said the NBA has reviewed the tape and found no evidence that it was altered or that the voice on the tape was anyone other than Sterling.
The commissioner is able to take these actions under authority granted to him by the NBA Constitution to penalize "conduct that is detrimental or prejudicial" to the NBA. The closest precedent is probably the case of former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott who was suspended in 1993 for racist conduct and, according to Sports Illustrated, "barred from making baseball or business decisions affecting the Reds."
While banned, decision-making would presumably be in the hands of Clippers coach and VP of Basketball Operations Doc Rivers, an African-American who has suggested he won't be back with the team next year if it's still in Sterling's hands.
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Because Sterling's net worth is an estimated $1.9 billion — making him, according to Forbes, the 972nd richest person in the world — the $2.5 million dollar fine is tiny. It's like fining a person with a net worth of $50,000 a grand total of $65.78.
Additionally, forcing Sterling to sell the team will lead to a financial windfall. He bought the Clippers in 1981 for $12 million, and Forbes recently valued them at $575 million — a figure that is almost certainly an underestimate, given that the Milwaukee Bucks recently sold for $550 million.
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In a post on National Review's blog, The Corner, Tim Cavanaugh reported early Sunday morning that Donald Sterling had made a few political contributions to Democrats in the early 1990s. The headline of the post said that Sterling "is a Democrat" and the claim was widely circulated in conservative media.
However, Patrick Caldwell from Mother Jones checked the Los Angeles County voter registration files and found that Sterling is a registered Republican and has been since 1998. He does not, however, appear to have been a financial supporter of Republican candidates.
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On April 27th, at 10:40 AM eastern time, the NAACP announced the cancellation of a previously scheduled event lifetime achievement award for Donald Sterling:
The award was to have been part of a gala 100th anniversary event for the NAACP's Los Angeles chapter:
The NAACPLA had been declining to comment to the media, but the national organization's tweet appears authoritative.
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