The NBA world Sunday decried racially charged remarks allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, with President Obama weighing in on what he called the “incredibly offensive racist statements.”
Celtics majority partner Wyc Grousbeck, noting that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is leading the league response, pointedly added: “I will say that what I heard on that tape goes against everything the Celtics stand for and our ownership, players, coaches, and fans reject it.”
Sterling made national headlines Saturday when an audio tape of an argument between a man believed to be Sterling and his girlfriend included several racist statements by the man after the woman had posted a picture of her and Magic Johnson on her Instagram account.
On the tape, obtained by TMZ, the voice believed to be that of Sterling admonishes his girlfriend for being seen with African-Americans and says he does not want African-Americans attending Clippers games.
“Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to promo . . . broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” the voice said to V. Stiviano. “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.”
The statements have caused a firestorm throughout the NBA, and Silver said Saturday night from Memphis that the league is investigating and will have a decision soon.
Sterling did not attend Game 4 of the Western Conference first-round series between the Clippers and Warriors in Oakland, Calif. Before that game, the Clippers players staged a silent protest by conducting their pregame routine with their red Clippers shirts on inside-out to hide the team’s logo. The Warriors routed the Clippers, 118-97, tying their series at two games apiece.
Obama cast the comments allegedly made by Sterling as part of a continuing legacy of slavery and segregation that Americans must confront. “When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk,” Obama said.
Former NBA superstar Michael Jordan, now the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, said he was “completely disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views.”
Heat owner Mickey Arison said, “The comments reported by TMZ were offensive, appalling, and very sad,” and Johnson said Sterling “shouldn’t own a team anymore.”
The Clippers and Celtics are linked by the June 2013 deal that sent coach Doc Rivers to Los Angeles for a first-round pick. Rivers addressed reporters following the Clippers’ practice in San Francisco Saturday and appeared upset. Clippers players did not address the media. Rivers said a potential boycott of Game 4 was discussed but never seriously considered.
Former Celtics star Cedric Maxwell, who played 1½ seasons for the Sterling-owned Clippers in the mid-1980s, said if it is indeed Sterling’s voice on the tape, strong action should be taken.
“I never got any vibe like that from Donald Sterling [when I played there], but after listening to this taped conversation, there is no doubt what the new commissioner has to do,” Maxwell said. “And if you look at it realistically, this is [Silver’s] first real test and his first true statement. That team has to be sold. You have to put Donald Sterling in check and that team has to be sold.”
Maxwell said Rivers has a challenge in keeping the players’ attention on basketball.
“If you are Doc Rivers, this is going to be his ultimate test,” Maxwell said. “What he has to do is focus on the games and somehow put a screen between his players and what is going on with the owner of this team because it is obvious right now, from what I heard Doc say, that his players were disgusted and [ticked] off. So there is a direction already with [the Clippers] in a very, very tough playoff series.”
Said Maxwell about Sterling: “He’s always been a rebel. He’s always been kind of out there as an owner. I think the [other owners] always wanted to reel him in as being a maverick but he set himself in a position right now, what recourse do the other owners have when it comes to another owner talking this way publicly? As an owner, how do you stand behind him?”
Free agent guard Jerryd Bayless, who spent the past four months with the Celtics, sent out nine tweets on the topic.
“I don’t think it would be right to penalize the fans and not play knowing they had nothing to do with it,” Bayless said on Twitter. “I also wouldn’t put on that jersey with Sterling still as the owner.”