Team owner's 'racist remarks' trigger outrage
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling attends the NBA playoff game between the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors on April 21, 2014 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California - by Robyn Beck
Sterling's Clippers were playing the Golden State Warriors in Oakland on Sunday in a crucial NBA play-off battle but the build-up to the clash was overshadowed by the disclosure of recorded comments made by the 80-year-old tycoon.
The gossip website TMZ posted an audio recording where Sterling purportedly can be heard criticizing his girlfriend, identified only as V. Stiviano, for posting photographs of herself and black friends attending Clippers matches on social media site Instagram.
"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you are associating with black people. Do you have to?" Sterling allegedly says in the nearly 10-minute recording that according to TMZ was from April 9.
"You can sleep with (black people). You can bring them in. You can do whatever you want. The little I ask is not to promote it on that... and not to bring them to my games."
Later in the audio, the woman identifies herself as "black and Mexican."
"In your lousy ... Instagrams you don't have to have yourself walking with black people," says the male voice.
Obama, the first African American president and a keen basketball player and fan, interrupted his diplomatic initiative in Asia to condemn the "ignorant" and "incredibly offensive" remarks.
"I don't think I have to interpret those statements for you. They kind of speak for themselves," said the president, speaking in Malaysia.
"When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don't really have to do anything, you just let them talk."
Obama also made a wider point about racism in the United States, which he said is still wrestling with the legacy of slavery and segregation.
"We just have to be clear and steady in denouncing it, teaching our children differently but also (remain) hopeful that part of why some statements like this stand out so much is because there has been a shift in how we view ourselves," he said.
- 'Bad for America' -
The controversy was the top item on many national news networks in the United States on Sunday, with various NBA legends and personalities reiterating their condemnation of Sterling's alleged comments.
Retired Los Angles Lakers star Magic Johnson, who vowed never to attend Clippers games again when the scandal broke on Saturday, told ABC's NBA Countdown that real estate mogul Sterling had no place in basketball.
"He shouldn’t own a team anymore," Johnson said.
"And he should stand up and say 'I don't want to own a team anymore,’ especially when you have African-Americans renting his apartments, coming to his games, playing for him and coaching for him.
"This is bad for everybody. It’s bad for America and I’m really upset about it."
Another former NBA great, the Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, said: "As an owner, I'm obviously disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views.
"As a former player, I'm completely outraged."
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has vowed to probe the controversy, describing the recorded remarks as "truly offensive and disturbing."
Silver said the league plans to interview Sterling and the woman on the tape, and possibly have the probe wrapped up before the Clippers' next home game on Tuesday.
- Team probe -
Clippers president Andy Roeser meanwhile said the remarks do not reflect Sterling's opinions on race, as he announced a team probe.
Roeser added that the woman identified as Sterling's girlfriend "is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family alleging that she embezzled more than $1.8 million, who told Mr. Sterling that she would 'get even.'"
Sterling is no stranger to race-related controversy.
In 2009, he paid a $2.73 million settlement to the Justice Department following a race-based rental discrimination case.
Four years earlier he paid an undisclosed amount of money in a suit alleging he tried to force non-Koreans out of apartments he owned in Los Angeles' Koreatown neighborhood.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the apparent girlfriend Stiviano is in her 20s and has been seen often at Sterling's side.
In a lawsuit filed last month, Sterling's wife claims that her husband gave Stiviano money and expensive cars, The Times reported.