Should Clippers players boycott? Reactions to Donald Sterling's horrific, racist rant

Before game 4 of Clippers' playoff series against the Warriors, Sterling's vile comments raise a moral conundrum

By Sarah Gray
Published April 27, 2014 5:00PM (EDT)
Donald Sterling          (AP/Mark J. Terrill)
Donald Sterling (AP/Mark J. Terrill)

On Saturday morning TMZ released an audio file that is allegedly Los Angeles Clippers owner and real estate mogul Donald Sterling talking to a woman friend V. Stiviano. In the racist recording the man identified as Sterling asks Stiviano to not publicly broadcast images of herself with black people (in reference to a photo she posted to Instagram of herself and Magic Johnson), or bring "them" to games.

The NBA and the Clippers franchise have both stated that there will be a swift investigation to see if the audio is authentic, and that appropriate action will follow. The Clippers' statement read:

“We do not know if it is legitimate or it has been altered. We do know that the woman on the tape — who we believe released it to TMZ — 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.’ Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called the audio "disturbing and offensive." However, he also said, "All members of the NBA family should be afforded due process and a fair opportunity to present their side of any controversy, which is why I'm not yet prepared to discuss any potential sanctions against Donald Sterling."

He continued, "We will, however, move extraordinarily quickly in our investigation."

While the validity of the audio is not confirmed, the tape has opened the sordid history files of Mr. Sterling's "views, beliefs or feelings" about race, and raises many questions for Clippers players and fans as they head into the playoffs.


Besides being known for owning Los Angeles' other basketball team -- the LA Clippers -- Sterling is known for a series of racially charged federal lawsuits regarding the properties he owns.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Sterling reached a $2.765-million settlement in 2009, in a case regarding alleged discrimination against Latinos and African-Americans at an apartment complex he owns.

In 2003 he was sued for racial discrimination by 19 tenants and the Housing Rights Center. The lawsuit stated that he did not want to rent to Latinos or African-Americans because, “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building,” and “black tenants smell and attract vermin.”

He was also sued by former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor, who according to the New York Times declared that Sterling embraced a “vision of a Southern plantation-type structure” for the franchise. Sterling won that suit.


Sterling's history and new allegations have sparked outrage from NBA players and former basketball superstars, including Magic Johnson.

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President Obama also addressed the rant made by Sterling, saying of the NBA, "It's got an awful lot of African-American players. It's steeped in African-American culture. And, I suspect that the NBA is going to be deeply concerned in resolving this."

The Los Angeles Clippers have long been overshadowed by the star-powered victories of the Los Angeles Lakers. This season, however, they find themselves with a win/loss record of 57-25 (the Lakers had 27-55), powerful players like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and a new coach, Doc Rivers. They are currently up 2-1 in playoff games against the Warriors. Game 4 is tonight in Oakland.

It has been reported that players were outraged by the comments and Clippers star Chris Paul, who is also president of the NBA Players Association, said, "this is a very serious issue which we will address aggressively."

In a smart piece by William C. Rhoden in the New York Times, he asked:

"The question might now be asked of Los Angeles Clippers players faced with a potential moral quandary about how to react if racist sentiments captured on an audio recording were, in fact, made by the Clippers’ owner, Donald Sterling.

Do the players boycott the rest of their playoff series against Golden State? Do they write their boss a letter of protest and dismay? Do they simply soldier on without comment?"

There seems to be no answer. Not let the terrible comments of your racist boss stop you from performing? Or walk out and refuse to play for a bigot? Rhoden has no answer. "I suspect the players are hoping against hope that the voice caught on tape does not belong to Sterling — so they will not have to make a choice," he writes.

At the Los Angeles Times, longtime sports writer Bill Plaschke addresses the conundrum in a more direct manner. "A boycott would have been counterproductive," he wrote on Saturday. "The best statement here for the Clippers would be to honor the rich contracts Sterling gave them and play well enough to eventually take more of his money."

He also contends that Sterling has affected the team's reception for far too long -- not just their history of underperformance but their perception:

"They will never be fully respected in Los Angeles because of their owner. They will never be seen as worthy competitors of the Lakers because of their owner. Despite spending millions to make the Clippers competitive, and despite that team filling Staples Center with perhaps the most diverse sports audience in Los Angeles, Sterling has never been able to make them fully embraceable because it is nearly impossible to cheer for him."

As the investigation unfolds at the beginning of the playoffs, will other coaches and players speak out? More important, will other owners stay silent?

Magic Johnson's comments sum it up quite nicely. "I feel sorry for my friends Coach Doc Rivers and Chris Paul that they have to work for a man that feels that way about African Americans," he tweeted. Johnson followed up with, "LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling's comments about African Americans are a black eye for the NBA." One that needs to be addressed swiftly.

h/t Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Associated Press

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email

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Donald Sterling Los Angeles Clippers Magic Johnson Nba Racism Reactions Tmz