The NBA is investigating a report of an audio recording in which a man identified as Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling tells his girlfriend not to bring black people to games as the team heads to the playoffs Sunday. If the tape is verified, the NBA has said Sterling could face all possible sanctions.
One former Clippers player accused the owner of a history of discrimination, and Sterling, a real estate mogul who bought the team in 1981, has faced several lawsuits over the years — including one over housing discrimination.
Though there have been calls for Sterling's immediate suspension, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Saturday that Sterling should be afforded due process.
"It would be unwise of me and improper to express a view as to what the ultimate outcome of any investigation would take us to," Silver said, adding that the league is in the process of authenticating the validity of the recording.
Sterling will not be attending Sunday's playoff game, Silver said, adding that the league was considering all possible sanctions against the Clippers owner and that the investigation should be finished within days. Messages seeking comment from the Clippers were not immediately returned.
In the recording posted on TMZ, the man questions his girlfriend's association with minorities. TMZ reported the woman, V. Stiviano, who is of black and Mexican descent, posted a picture of herself with Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson on Instagram — which has since been removed.
The man asked Stiviano not to broadcast her association with black people or bring black people to games.
"I will never go to a Clippers game again as long as Donald Sterling is the owner," Magic Johnson responded on Twitter. He also said the alleged comments are "a black eye for the NBA" and said he felt bad that friends such as Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Clippers point guard Chris Paul had to work for Sterling.
The Clippers were practicing in San Francisco ahead of Game 4 of their first-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday. Los Angeles leads 2-1. Rivers and players were scheduled to speak to reporters at 12:30 p.m. PDT Saturday before they practiced at the University of San Francisco.
Coach Rivers made a statement on Saturday, following calls for the team to boycott Sunday's game.
"This is a situation where we're trying to go after something very important for us. ... Donald or anyone else had nothing to do with that dream and we're not going to let anything get in the way," Rivers said.
"We're going to let the due process get handled and that situation will be dealt with later." Rivers, along with 12 of the 14 Clippers players, are black.
A spokeswoman for the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, Jacky Johnson, said the organization planned to a protest outside Tuesday night's NBA playoff game in Los Angeles.
Sterling is the longest-tenured owner in the NBA since Lakers owner Jerry Buss died last year. He has been frequently criticized for his frugal operation of the Clippers, although in recent years he has spent heavily to add stars such as Paul and Rivers, who led the team back to the playoffs in his first year as coach.
Former Clippers guard Baron Davis wrote on Twitter that Sterling's discrimination has been "going on for a long time." Sterling has been involved in several lawsuits over the years, including ones with discrimination accusations.
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.
In March 2011, Sterling won a lawsuit against former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor when a jury rejected the Hall of Famer's claim of age discrimination and harassment. Baylor, who was 76 at the time, had sought about $2 million after claiming he was forced out of the job he had held for 22 years. The team said Baylor left on his own and a jury awarded him nothing.
Sterling is a courtside fixture at Clippers home games. But he rarely visits the team's locker room at Staples Center, although he made an appearance in December 2012 after they had won their 11th straight game, when he led an awkward locker room cheer.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press