Donald Sterling, the owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, told his girlfriend not to post pictures on Instagram of herself with black people and not to bring black people to his basketball games, according to an audio recording posted by TMZ.
In the recording, a man who TMZ says is Sterling and his girlfriend are fighting over a picture she posted to Instagram of herself with NBA legend Magic Johnson, and Sterling demands that she stop “broadcasting” that she associates with black people. Sterling tells his girlfriend: “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.”
Later, he makes the point specifically about Magic Johnson, telling her that “it’s too bad you can’t admire (Johnson) privately…bring him here, feed him, f*** him, I don’t care. You can do anything. But don’t put him on an Instagram for the world to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games. OK?”
Sterling’s comments about Johnson follow a long argument about his girlfriend — who says in the recording that she is half-black and half-Mexican — not understanding the cultural differences between white, black, and Hispanic people. At one point, Sterling asks her if she gets “a benefit” from associating with black people, and calls her “stupid” when she asks why the race of the people she associates with matters. Sterling doesn’t answer when she asks if it would have been different had it been Larry Bird in the photo.
When it comes to race, the comments aren’t even the most troubling incident in Sterling’s time as the Clippers owner. In 2006, he was sued in a housing discrimination lawsuit that alleged that Sterling wouldn’t rent apartments to black families in Beverly Hills and other LA neighborhoods. The suit alleged that Sterling had once said that “black tenants smell and attract vermin.”
Former Clippers executive (and NBA player) Elgin Baylor sued Sterling in 2009, alleging that the owner discriminated against him based on his age and race.
The NBA didn’t take action against Sterling in either instance, even though there is precedent for doing so: in 1993, Major League Baseball suspended Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott for a full season for comments she’d made about black and Jewish people.
More than three-quarters of the NBA’s players are black, and the league has a larger share of minority fans than any of other major sports leagues. The NBA can’t take away Sterling’s team. But it needs to do something, especially because it has already let Sterling off the hook so many times before.