Donald Sterling won't get to watch any more NBA games in person after he was handed a lifetime ban on Tuesday. * MCT photo
Donald Sterling won't get to watch any more NBA games in person after he was handed a lifetime ban on Tuesday. * MCT photo

Donald Sterling, whose troubled history as owner of the NBA franchise the Los Angeles Clippers has included a myriad of lurid and discriminatory allegations, is in the middle of another firestorm. He was banned for life from the NBA on Tuesday.

Specifically, a taped conversation allegedly between Sterling and his girlfriend was leaked to TMZ. In it, Sterling appears to make ugly racist remarks about black people and Hispanics. We take a look at the controversy.

Who exactly is Donald Sterling?

He’s the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. He’s also a billionaire and real estate mogul. He bought the Clippers in the early 1980s when they were located in San Diego and moved them north to Los Angeles in 1984. For most of his tenure as owner, the Clippers have been a basketball laughingstock. This year’s team is one of the best in the history of the organization, if not the best. 

What has he done?

He is alleged to have made very ugly remarks to his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, wherein he tells her not to accompany black people to his games and not to be photographed on social media with black people.

In the recording he says: “Why are you taking pictures with minorities? Why? It’s like talking to an enemy.”

He adds, “It bothers me a lot that you’re associating with black people…You’re supposed to be a delicate white or delicate Latina girl…You don’t have to have yourself walking with black people.”

That’s pretty heinous. Isn’t the NBA comprised of mostly black players?

Yes.  More than three-quarters of the players are black; the league is steeped in African-American culture.

Why would such a virulent racist want anything to do with a league like that?

Some commentators have compared Sterling’s mentality to that of an antebellum slave owner. In other words: a man who is happy to make money off African-Americans, but does not want to associate with them.

The psychology behind this sounds really twisted and weird.

Yes. Even weirder, his girlfriend — the one who is having the conversation with him on the tape — is of mixed race, she has Mexican and African ancestry. Also, in the recording, he says he doesn’t mind if she sleeps with black men, but only takes exception to her taking photos with them and posting them on platforms such as Instagram.

Does he have a record of racism allegations?

In short, yes. Sterling was the object of a massive housing discrimination suit, in which he is alleged to have favoured Korean tenants over African Americans and Hispanics. He settled that case with the largest payout for a case of its kind in American history -— $2.6 million — but he did not admit any wrongdoing. He’s been in other legal entanglements, including sexual harassment lawsuits and a racial discrimination suit filed by a former team general manager.

Sworn testimony of his employees during some of these lawsuits has painted an ugly picture. 

During various litigations, people have quoted him as saying, among other things, “That’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean” and “I don’t like Mexican men because they smoke, they drink and just hang around the house.”

How has he been allowed to continue to own a team?

That’s a great question and one for the NBA’s former commissioner David Stern, who recently retired.  So far, the question has gone largely unanswered. Some say his wealth and status as a league owner have insulated him from punishment in the past. This marks the first major test for the league’s new commissioner, Adam Silver.

So what happens next?

Silver has announced there will be an investigation.  The backlash to the tape recording has been swift and severe. The league’s biggest superstar, LeBron James, has gone on record saying there is no place for Sterling in the NBA. 

Michael Jordan, widely considered to be the best basketball player ever, who now owns the Charlotte Bobcats, has also said he is disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views.

US President Barack Obama has also admonished Sterling for his “offensive” remarks.

What have Sterling’s players done?

They’re in a tough position. Currently, the team is battling the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. The series has been hard fought. Some pundits have called for them to boycott the remaining games, while others say that’s unfair. 

The players have, after all, worked all year to reach this point and have a solid team that could make a deep run into the postseason. 

Before Sunday’s game, as a sign of protest, they warmed up in shirts that were inside out, making the team name effectively invisible.