Alleged Sterling talk being probed

Updated: April 27, 2014, 2:31 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

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."

NBA spokesman Mike Bass issued the following statement: "We are in the process of conducting a full investigation into the audio recording obtained by TMZ. The remarks heard on the recording are disturbing and offensive, but at this time we have no further information."

The Clippers have opened their own investigation, team president Andy Roeser said in a statement.

"We have heard the tape on TMZ. We do not know if it is legitimate or it has been altered," he said. "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. 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.

"He is also upset and apologizes for sentiments attributed to him about Earvin Johnson. He has long considered Magic a friend and has only the utmost respect and admiration for him -- both in terms of who he is and what he has achieved. We are investigating this matter."

Johnson wrote in a series of tweets that he would not attend another Clippers game while Sterling owned the team.

In a later tweet he added:

Reverend Jesse Jackson also weighed in on Sterling's alleged comments.

"The first burden is upon the commissioner, Adam Silver, to act decisively because we don't want this to drag on throughout the playoffs," the noted civil rights activist said. "Donald Sterling should be banned immediately. The question is for how long. To do otherwise would subject his players to the indignity of working for a racist.

"And since Donald Sterling doesn't want blacks to go to his games, blacks should not go to his games. And whites who view blacks as equals should not go to his games. Why should the players even play for him when he has stated that their relatives -- their children, their parents, some of their wives -- are not welcome at their games?"

The Clippers held a 45-minute team meeting Saturday morning regarding the audio.

Sterling was set to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in May.

The NAACP issued a statement about the remarks.

"If these allegations are proven true, we are extremely disappointed in Mr. Sterling," Alice Huffman, president of the NAACP California State Conference, said in the release. "Recent remarks like these, and those of Cliven Bundy, remind us that racism is not a footnote of our past, but a reality of our present that we must confront head on.

"... As the investigation is in progress, we urge the LA Branch of the NAACP to withdraw Donald Sterling from the honoree list at its upcoming Gala. We also suggest that African Americans and Latinos should honor his request and not attend the games."

Players around the league began reacting as news of the investigation spread.

"It's a damn shame but a sad reality that we have people in the world who continue to further such ignorance," Lakers star Kobe Bryant told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith. "I would not want to play for him."

Warriors coach Mark Jackson, whose team is playing the Clippers in a first-round playoff series, said he was "disappointed in the comments made."

It's "unfortunate," he continued. "I believe there's no place in society for those feelings, and it's just sad."

When asked if he wished the owners would do something, Jackson said, "This is the real world. And I'll go out on a limb and say that the statements that were made, there's other people in this world that feel that way. So let's not be naive."

JAMES I've wavered back and forth if I would actually sit out, if our owner came out and said the things that he said. I would really have to sit down with my teammates, talk to my family, because at the end of the day, our family and our teammates are way more important than that. ... But there's no room for Donald Sterling in our league. There's no room for him.

-- LeBron James on alleged Donald Sterling comments

Heat star LeBron James summed up his thoughts on the situation: "No room for Donald Sterling in our league."

"As commissioner of our league, you have to make a stand and you have to be very aggressive with it," James said. "I don't know what it's going to be, but you just can't have that in our league."

How difficult would it be to play in playoffs with this hanging over your head?

"I don't know. I've wavered back and forth if I would actually sit out, if our owner came out and said the things that he said," James answered. "I would really have to sit down with my teammates, talk to my family, because at the end of the day, our family and our teammates are way more important than that. And basketball is huge, obviously the playoffs have been unbelievable, and I hate the fact that something like this has to come when the playoffs have been unbelievable. And the game of basketball continues to grow.

"But there's no room for Donald Sterling in our league. There's no room for him."

Michael Jordan, the only NBA majority owner who is African American, had no comment at this time, his business manager said.

Former Clipper Baron Davis took to Twitter to express his thoughts about Sterling.

Last month, CBS reported that Rochelle Sterling, Sterling's wife, filed a lawsuit against Stiviano, alleging she had a sexual affair with her husband. The suit, which states Sterling and Stiviano began their relationship after meeting at the Super Bowl in 2010, asks for a return of all cash, land cars and other items that under California law are the community property of the Sterlings.

A spokeswoman for the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, Jacky Johnson, said the organization planned to a protest outside Tuesday night's NBA playoff game in Los Angeles.

Sterling, a real estate mogul, bought the Clippers in 1981. He's been the longest-tenured owner in the NBA since Lakers owner Jerry Buss died last year.

He has been frequently criticized for his frugal operation of the Clippers, although in recent years he has spent heavily to add stars such as Chris Paul and Doc Rivers, who led the team back to the playoffs in his first season as coach.

Paul, also the NBPA president, issued a statement.

"On behalf of the National Basketball Players Association, this is a very serious issue which we will address aggressively," it read. "We have asked [Sacramento] Mayor Kevin Johnson to expand his responsibilities with the NBPA, to determine our response and our next steps. As players, we owe it to our teams and our fans to keep our focus on our game, the playoffs, and a drive to the Finals."

[+] EnlargeDonald Sterling
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDonald Sterling is the longest-tenured owner in the NBA since Lakers owner Jerry Buss died last year.

Johnson, for his part, called the comments "reprehensible and unacceptable." He is a former NBA All-Star guard and chairman of a search committee to find a new director for the union.

Sterling has been involved in several lawsuits over the years, including ones with discrimination accusations.

In November 2009, Sterling agreed to pay $2.73 million to settle allegations by the government that he refused to rent apartments to Hispanics and blacks and to families with children. The Justice Department sued Sterling in August 2006 for allegations of housing discrimination in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles.

In March 2011, Sterling won a lawsuit against former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor when a jury rejected the Hall of Famer's claim of age discrimination and harassment. Baylor, who was 76 at the time, had sought about $2 million after claiming he was forced out of the job he'd held for 22 years. The team said Baylor left on his own and a jury awarded him nothing.

"Myself and other people of color were subjected to this mentality for over 20 years," Baylor told ESPN. "I both witnessed and experienced it. What he said speaks for itself."

Sterling is a courtside fixture at home games. He rarely visits the team's locker room at Staples Center, although he made an appearance in December 2012 after the Clippers had won their 11th straight game, when he led an awkward locker room cheer.

Information from ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, ESPN.com's Darren Rovell, Michael Wallace and Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPNLosAngeles.com's Arash Markazi and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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