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.
FOR THE RECORD:
This article says Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a statement "condemning the billionaire." In fact, the statement condemned the alleged remarks of the billionaire.
"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 who 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."
Former Clippers point guard Baron Davis, who Sterling famously heckled from his courtside seat for his poor play during Davis' two-plus seasons with the team, alluded to Sterling's history of racial issues by tweeting, "That's the way it is … He is honest about what he believes in. Been going on for a long time, Hats off 2
the Team … 4 playin above it all."
In 2009, Sterling agreed to pay $2.73 million to settle allegations by the government that he refused to rent apartments to Hispanics, blacks and families with children in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles.
Former Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against Sterling that same year contending the owner embraced a "vision of a Southern plantation-type structure" for his organization, though his claim was eventually rejected by a jury.
Former Clippers guard Ron Harper said in a phone interview Sterling "took care of me when I played there. But if I had known then what I know now, there's no way I would have ever played for him. I know where he stands and it's not for African-American people. I've got no love for him at all."
Mayor Garcetti denounced the owner, saying Sterling's alleged remarks were "offensive and despicable and have no place in Los Angeles. I urge the NBA to act swiftly. L.A. fans demand and deserve better."
The Los Angeles chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People had been scheduled to give Sterling the group's lifetime achievement award at a May 15 banquet.
In the lawsuit filed in L.A. County Superior Court on March 7, Sterling's wife of more than 50 years paints Stiviano as an opportunist who seduces older wealthy men and persuades them to shower her with gifts. According to the suit, Sterling and Stiviano began an affair after meeting at the 2010 Super Bowl game and were still in a relationship as of the filing date.
Rochelle Sterling alleges her husband used community property to buy Stiviano a 2012 Ferrari, two Bentleys and a 2013 Range Rover, worth a total of more than $500,0000.
Sterling also gave Stiviano $1.8 million to buy a duplex on West 4th Street near the Beverly Center last December, according to the suit, which claims Sterling additionally provided her with $240,000 for upkeep and living expenses.
Arguing the gifts were all made without Rochelle Sterling's knowledge or consent, the complaint seeks their return along with compensatory damages.
Roeser, the Clippers' executive, said in his statement that Sterling "feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them.
"He is also upset and apologizes for sentiments attributed to him about Earvin Johnson. He has long considered Magic a friend.."
Times staff writers Broderick Turner, David Zahniser, Ruben Vives and Bettina Boxall contributed to this report.