Making headlines in the sports world over the weekend were remarks purportedly made by the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.
An audio recording purportedly of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist remarks to his girlfriend is being investigated by the NBA.
In the recording, the man believed to be Sterling questions his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, about her association with minorities. TMZ reports that Stiviano, who is black and Mexican, posted a picture of her with Magic Johnson on Instagram, a photo that has since been removed.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” the man believed to be Sterling says. He continues, “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.” http://espn.go.com/los-angeles…
It seems that Sperling’s animus has been, if not a poorly kept secret, at least hinted at due to lawsuits that have been settled in the past.
“Just evict the bitch.”
It was 2002, and Donald Sterling was talking to Sumner Davenport, one of his four top property supervisors, about a tenant at the Ardmore Apartments. Already the largest landowner in Beverly Hills, Sterling had recently acquired the Ardmore as part of his move to extend his real estate empire eastward toward Koreatown and downtown LA. As he did, Sterling “wanted tenants that fit his image,” according to testimony Davenport gave in a discrimination lawsuit brought against Sterling in 2003 by 19 tenants and the nonprofit Housing Rights Center. (That case ended in a confidential settlement in 2005; attorneys for the Center declined to comment for this story. In a separate suit, also concluded in 2005, Davenport claimed Sterling sexually harassed her, and lost. She declined comment. The Magazine has obtained depositions in both cases.) Cultivating his image, Davenport said, meant no blacks, no Mexican-Americans, no children (whom Sterling called “brats”) and no government-housing-subsidy recipients as tenants. So according to the testimony of tenants, Sterling employees made life difficult for residents in some of his new buildings. They refused rent checks, then accused renters of nonpayment. They refused to do repairs for black tenants and harassed them with surprise inspections, threatening residents with eviction for alleged violations of building rules.
Two years later, Sterling resolved the Housing Rights Center case with a payout. The details of the agreement are confidential, but U.S. District Court judge Dale Fischer called the settlement one of the largest ever obtained in this type of case.” Plaintiffs were awarded $4.9 million in legal fees alone. In August 2006, the Justice Department hit Sterling with the federal housing discrimination charges he faces today2009]. They portray a pattern of behavior far in spirit from the starlit world of Spago and Staples that Donald Sterling revels in publicly.
When it comes to female subordinates in his real estate business, Sterling shows a distinct racial preference. In 2003 he had 74 white employees, four Latinos, zero blacks and 30 Asians, 26 of them women, according to his Equal Employment Opportunity filings with the state of California. (The numbers are similar for the other years in which Sterling has been charged with racial discrimination.) “He would tell me that I needed to learn the ‘Asian way’ from his younger girls because they knew how to please him.”
Davenport testified in 2004. Davenport also stated: “If I made a mistake, I needed to stand at my desk and bow my head and say, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Sterling. I’m sorry I disappointed you. I’ll try to do better.’ ”
Sterling’s preference for Asians extended to the people he wanted in his buildings. “I like Korean employees and I like Korean tenants,” he told Dean Segal, chief engineer at a Sterling property called the Mark Wilshire Tower Apartments, according to testimony Segal gave in the Housing Rights Center case. And Davenport testified that Sterling told her, “I don’t have to spend any more money on them, they will take whatever conditions I give them and still pay the rent…so I’m going to keep buying in Koreatown.”
As of now the voice on the tape has not been authenticated although Sperling has not denied it was him and the team’s president has issued a statement:
“Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them.”
It does appear that the tape was released to TMZ by Sperling’s ex-wife who has filed a lawsuit:
Rochelle Sterling, Donald Sterling’s wife of more than 50 years, filed a lawsuit against Stiviano, asking for the return of all cash, land, cars and other gifts Donald gave Stiviano that under California law are the community property of the Sterlings. The gifts include a duplex worth $1.8 million, a Ferrari, a Range Rover and two Bentleys. The lawsuit states Stiviano knew the gifts given to her were provided without the “knowledge, consent or authorization” of Rochelle Sterling.
What does it take to at least raise some serious issues about Sperling’s views? What, if anything, can the NBA do to Sperling as an owner? He bought the team 30+ years ago for a pittance, 12.5 million, and as a team in the playoffs he stands to make millions if forced to sell. Yeah, that hurts. Even a fine is pocket change to a billionaire.
The fact that Sterling has survived all these prior dustups — and the betting here is that he’ll survive this one, too — says less about Sterling himself than it does about America’s unhealthy relationship with its pro sports tycoons and about the unhealthy structure of pro sports leagues.
Let’s start with the character of the men (and a few women) who have been members of this tiny club. Almost all of them are self-made businesspersons or inheritors of great wealth. Either way, they’ve come up in the world unaccustomed to having their personal whims thwarted. As my former colleague Tom Mulligan reported in a 1996 profile of Sterling, his real estate wealth gave him “the luxury of being able to say no to anything and anybody.”
Leagues are reluctant to take firm action against owners for several reasons. One is that their authority to do so, absent some truly egregious act, is murky — even overt racism is a judgment call. Figuring out what to do with an orphaned team is a headache. And fellow owners are loath to lower the bar, possibly because not a few of them have unsavory histories of their own to worry about.
But nothing will prompt the leagues to take action against a misbehaving owner until and unless they perceive that the behavior is costing them money. An owner who loses a stadium deal? That would do it. An owner who provokes a fan boycott that actually empties the stands? That would do it.
What does that mean for Donald Sterling? The Clippers play in a private arena, so the city of Los Angeles doesn’t have much sway over the team. Magic Johnson has said he’ll boycott the Clippers as long as Sterling is the owner, so possibly there’s a seed of a community revolt in that.
But don’t count on it. The smart money says Sterling will wriggle out of this controversy. He’ll say that the recorded conversation at the heart of the latest accusations was private, that he misspoke or uttered his slurs in a weak or emotional moment, or that it isn’t him at all. He’ll point to his record of public philanthropy. He’ll find a complaisant television talk show host to give him a platform for a heartfelt public apology.
Doesn’t give one a warm fuzzy feeling about how this plays out. Money buys a lot of things.