TMZ made headlines today by publishing audio of billionaire Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling reprimanding his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, for posting Instagram photos with black people. She apparently shared a picture of herself and Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson, for which Sterling criticized her and demanded that she not associate with black people “publicly.” He also told her to not bring black people to Clippers games. The news spread like wildfire and has sparked immediate outrage, as it should. But something should be acknowledged.
Donald Sterling has been accused of racism numerous times in the past. This is not new or rare. This man, most likely, is an unapologetic racist.
In 2009, former longtime Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor sued the organization for wrongful termination, accusing Sterling of cultivating what was referred to as a “racist attitude.” “While ignoring my suggestions and isolating me from decisions customarily reserved for general managers, the Clippers attempted to place the blame for the team’s failures on me,” Baylor said in the suit. “During this same period, players Sam Cassell, Elton Brand and Corey Maggette complained to me that Donald Sterling would bring women into the locker room after games, while the players were showering, and make comments such as, ‘Look at those beautiful black bodies.’ I brought this to Sterling’s attention, but he continued to bring women into the locker room.” Baylor lost the suit, with a jury rejecting Baylor’s claim and awarding him nothing.*
Former Clippers GM Paul Phipps told sports writer Jeff Pearlman that Sterling’s racism surfaced when Phipps was attempting to hire a new coach to replace Paul Silas in the 1980s. Villanova coach Rollie Massimino was interviewed for the job and he angrily called Phipps after a conversation with Sterling. “Here’s this guy,” Massimino said, “and he has this blonde bimbo with him, they have a bottle of champagne, they’re tanked. And Don looks at me and he says, ‘I wanna know why you think you can coach these n—ers.’” After the interaction with Sterling, Massimino refused the job.
In 2006, Sterling was sued by the Department of Justice for housing discrimination. The billionaire and his wife Rochelle reportedly refused to rent to non-Korean prospective tenants and lied about the availability of apartment units to prevent blacks and Latinos from obtaining housing in the buildings he owned around Los Angeles. The Sterlings voiced a preference for renting to Korean tenants. Peter Keating of ESPN the Magazine also wrote about Sterling’s racism as it pertained to his housing practices. “When Sterling first bought the Ardmore, he remarked on its odor to Davenport. ‘That’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean,’ he said, according to [former Sterling property supervisor Sumner] Davenport’s [testimony during a 2002 lawsuit hearing against the billionaire.] ‘And it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day.’ He added: ‘So we have to get them out of here.’ ”
With this latest controversy, Sterling’s racist beliefs are unquestionable. If the voice on the tape is proven to be Sterling, there is now audio proof. But don’t hold your breath waiting for Clippers players or Coach Doc Rivers to take a stand publicly against the bigoted team owner. There will be a lot of “I’m just focused on the playoffs” and “I haven’t even heard about it, really.” But the right thing to do, for the players, the coaching staff and the NBA, is to move for Donald Sterling to be removed as owner of a team that thrives on the bodies of black players. If not, the team, the players and the league will have to forever contend with the fact that they condone and support an organization that encourages a plantation culture.
*It was previously erroneously reported that Baylor withdrew his lawsuit.