Donald Sterling’s tenure as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers has been loaded with allegations of racism and generally deplorable behavior.
While the overtness and tone of the racism on the tape that leaked this weekend is shocking, it’s no surprise that Donald Sterling said horrible things about black people.
The NBA, under David Stern, tolerated it for years.
In a 2009 wrongful termination lawsuit that was eventually rejected by a jury, former Clippers general manager and NBA legend Elgin Baylor claimed that Sterling had a “plantation mentality.“
From Baylor’s lawsuit:
“[Sterling] said, ‘Personally, I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players.’ And I was shocked. And he looked at me and said, ‘Do you think that’s a racist statement?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. That’s plantation mentality.’”
In the suit, Baylor also claimed that three top Clippers players — Sam Cassell, Elton Brand, and Corey Maggette — complained to him that Sterling was bringing women into the lockerroom to look at the players, and once said to one of the women, “Look at those beautiful black bodies.”
In 2006 the Department of Justice brought housing discrimination charges against Sterling for allegedly refusing to rent to African-Americans at his Los Angeles residential complexes. The suit was settled three years later for a record $2.75 million, with Sterling avoiding an admission of liability.
In sworn testimony, one of Sterling’s top property supervisors Sumner Davenport claimed he made racist comments about black people living in one of the buildings he had just acquired:
“That’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean. … And it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day.”
Davenport also told a story about Sterling saying “just evict the b****” when a black tenant complained about water damage (via ESPN’s Peter Keating):
“Kandynce Jones’ refrigerator dripped, her dishwasher was broken, and her apartment was always cold. Now it had flooded. Davenport reported what she saw to Sterling, and according to her testimony, he asked: ‘Is she one of those black people that stink?’ When Davenport told Sterling that Jones wanted to be reimbursed for the water damage and compensated for her ruined property, he replied: ‘I am not going to do that. Just evict the b****.’“
In a 1983 incident, prospective Clippers coaching candidate Rollie Massimino says that Sterling used the n-word in an impromptu interview at LAX (via Jeff Pearlman):
“Here’s this guy, and he has this blonde bimbo with him, they have a bottle of champagne, they’re tanked. And Don looks at me and he says, ‘I wanna know why you think you can coach these n*****s.’”
Sterling also has a history of saying strange and insensitive statements about women. In a 2003 lawsuit against a former mistress, Sterling talked about paying the woman $500 every time they had sex:
“When you pay a woman for sex, you are not together with her. You’re paying her for a few moments to use her body for sex. Is it clear? Is it clear?”
There’s also this absurd exchange, from that same deposition (via Deadspin):
Beyond racism, Sterling has history of gross behavior. Like the time in 2004 when he refused to pay for an assistant coach’s $70,000 prostate cancer surgery — which the Clippers players eventually paid for out of their own pockets. Or the time he heckled Baron Davis, his own player, so mercilessly that it broke his spirit.
Davis told the New York Post in 2012:
“I just stopped liking basketball. And then you dribbling down the court and having the owner like cuss at you and call you an idiot. I didn’t even look forward to coming to the games, and if the owner [Donald Sterling] came to the game, I definitely was not gonna have a good game because it was just like, how do you play when the main heckler in the gym is the owner of the team, and he’s telling you how much he hates you and calling out your name?”
The NBA never disciplined Sterling for these incidents. In fact, it went out of its way to establish his team as one of the league’s marquee franchises by vetoing the Chris Paul trade and eventually rerouting the star point guard to the Clippers.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver pled ignorance when asked about Sterling’s past behavior at his press conference this weekend. Silver has worked at the NBA since 1992. It’s impossible to believe he doesn’t know Sterling’s history.
The league has ignored Sterling for decades, tolerating him in the hopes that he’d never do something to embarrass the league on a mainstream level.
Now that the bombshell has dropped and derailed the NBA playoffs, the league only has itself to blame.