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NBA Probes 'Disturbing and Offensive' Comments Attributed To Clippers Owner

An October 2013 photo shows Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, right, and V. Stiviano, left. A recording released Friday includes racist comments allegedly made by Sterling as the couple argued. The NBA is investigating the claim.
Mark J. Terrill
An October 2013 photo shows Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, right, and V. Stiviano, left. A recording released Friday includes racist comments allegedly made by Sterling as the couple argued. The NBA is investigating the claim.

An audio recording that reportedly captures Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling criticizing a woman for publicly "associating with black people" is prompting an NBA investigation into whether Sterling made that and other remarks, including a demand about Magic Johnson: "don't bring him to my games."

"Why are you taking pictures with minorities? Why?" the man asks in the recording, in which a man and woman argue over topics that include photos she posted to Instagram.

He goes on to talk about racial views as a part of cultural history, and as part of the world today.

The recording quickly became a hot topic on Twitter and on sports talk shows after it was posted Friday night by TMZ. The website says the conversation took place earlier this month between Sterling and his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, after she posted a photo of herself with Johnson. TMZ did not explain how it obtained the recording.

In a statement released Saturday, NBA spokesman Mike Bass says the league is in the process of authenticating the validity of the recording. He called the comments "disturbing and offensive."

Responding to the story on Twitter, Magic Johnson wrote, "I will never go to a Clippers game again as long as Donald Sterling is the owner."

The recording sparked an uproar that dominated half-time discussions during NBA playoff games Saturday. On TNT's Inside the NBA, analyst and former player Charles Barkley said that if the voice on the recording is proven to be Sterling's, the NBA and its new commissioner, Adam Silver, must act.

"This is the first test of Adam Silver. He's got to suspend him right now. First of all, they've got to prove that's his voice on that tape. But this is the first big test for Adam Silver," Barkley said. "You can't have this guy making statements like that. You have to suspend him and fine him immediately."

The recording doesn't represent the first allegation of racism to be aimed at Sterling. As a report on NBA.com notes, some earlier charges came from the U.S. Justice Department:

"In November 2009, Sterling agreed to pay $2.73 million to settle allegations by the government that he refused to rent apartments to Hispanics and blacks and to families with children. The Justice Department sued Sterling in August 2006 for allegations of housing discrimination in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles."

The recording led former Clippers player Baron Davis to tweet, "He is honest about what he believes in." Adding that it had "been going on for a long time," Davis also praised the team for not being distracted by the incident. The Clippers currently lead the Golden State Warriors in their playoff series, 2-1.

Speaking about black people in the recording, the man tells the woman, "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 woman, whom TMZ identifies as Sterling's girlfriend, says she is of mixed ethnicity, black and Mexican. She adds that she isn't a racist.

"I'm sorry that you still have people around you that are full of racism and hate in their heart," she says. "I'm sorry that you're still racist in your heart."

The president of the Los Angeles Clippers, Andy Roeser, released a statement saying they were still trying to verify the legitimacy of the audio recording, but that the statements do not reflect Sterling's "views, beliefs or feelings."

The statement also says that they believe the woman in the recording is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family, a woman who they claim embezzled more than $1.8 million and said she would "get even" with Sterling.

The LA Times has Roeser's full statement.

Chris Paul, the president of the National Basketball Players Association, called the recording's contents "a very serious issue which we will address aggressively."

Update at 9:55 p.m. ET

In a press conference in Memphis, Tenn., Saturday night, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league finds the audio tape "disturbing and offensive" and that Sterling agreed to not attend the Clippers' game Sunday at Golden State.

Silver said the NBA will move quickly in its investigation and that they hoped "to have this wrapped up in the next few days."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.