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Clippers Distances Themselves From Racist Comments


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST: And I'm David Greene. Last night at their NBA playoff game, the Los Angeles Clippers wore their warm up suits inside out to hide the team's name. The players were expressing their disgust at remarks allegedly made by the team's owner Donald Sterling. Over the weekend the website TMZ posted an audio recording which is says is Sterling telling his girlfriend not to appear in public with African-Americans, including basketball legend Magic Johnson.


HOST: Now, the Clippers have raised questions about whether that's actually the voice of their owner. A statement from the team said whoever is speaking does not reflect Sterling's views, beliefs, or feelings. Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN who's reported on Sterling for years and he joins us on the line. Peter, good morning.

PETER KEATING: Hi. How are you?

HOST: I'm well, thank you. You know, I feel like all weekend I was hearing from friends and other people who don't follow the NBA, don't even follow sports, who were talking about this name Donald Sterling. Can you remind us who this man is?

KEATING: Sure. Donald Sterling is the billionaire owners of the Los Angeles Clippers, the NBA team. I think there's three things that are important for people to know. One is that he is quite an amazing rags to riches story. He's a self-made guy. He was born Donald Tokowitz in Boyle Heights. It's a tough east L.A. neighborhood. His dad was a produce dealer. He went to public schools.

He married the daughter of the man who owned the furniture store where he worked when he was a young man. And whatever you want to say about their marriage, it's lasted for more than 50 years.

HOST: Um-hum.

KEATING: He changed his name to Sterling because it meant something classy and newly minted. He was a personal injury and divorce lawyer who tried 10,000 cases because he had to hang out his own shingle because he couldn't get a job at a prestigious firm because he was Jewish. He got into real estate in the '60s. That's where he made his money.

But the second thing is he's very eccentric. You know, there's stories about how as he's made more and more and more money, he's been less and less accountable to anybody. And in basketball he's known for decades for drafting young players, developing them, then letting them go, never signing free agents.

His team was horrible. The Clippers lost more games than any team in the country for years.

HOST: Yeah. In the basement for a long time.

KEATING: Yeah. But he's had really patterns of disturbing racial and also sexual harassment behavior for which he's been sued for years. And he's paid the largest housing discrimination settlement case ever to the Justice Department in 2009 when his tenants accused him of trying to drive them out of their buildings in his real estate holdings.

HOST: So some accusations before. But, Peter, this is a league, the NBA, that's known for diversity and inclusiveness - one of the reasons this has been so shocking to many people. I mean, what's the reaction been so far?

KEATING: The reaction has been swift and strong. I mean, here you have Michael Jordan, who's part owner of the Charlotte Bobcats and who usually does not take stances in controversial matters; and Magic Johnson, who was named on this tape; and LeBron James and players and coaches and owners all saying that this is reprehensible and they expect the commissioner to do something about it.

HOST: And what can the commissioner do? What could the NBA do if they decided this is actually his voice?

KEATING: Well, it's an interesting question. A group of players, Clippers players, met with the new commissioner, Adam Silver, and told him they expected the maximum sanctions to be levied against Sterling but they're still trying to figure out what that is. I think everyone knows that he can be fined and suspended. The question is whether the league can now make him so uncomfortable that he's essentially compelled to sell the team.

HOST: All right. We'll be following the story as it goes forward. Peter Keating is a senior writer for ESPN. Peter, thanks very much.

KEATING: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.