Wary sponsors began dropping their support for the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday as pressure mounted over racist remarks allegedly made by the owner of the NBA team, Donald Sterling.
The National Basketball Association said it would make an announcement Tuesday about the league’s investigation of Sterling, whose team is valued at $575 million by Forbes magazine.
The comments attributed to Sterling, heard in a recording first made public by celebrity news website TMZ at the weekend, have set off a firestorm around the 80-year-old real estate tycoon.
The players — in the middle of a first-round playoff battle with the Golden State Warriors — staged a silent on-court protest on Sunday, and NBA luminaries have called for the league to take tough action against Sterling.
Sterling’s estranged wife Rochelle upped the ante when she said Monday the voice in the recording was indeed that of her husband.
– Sponsors flee –
On Monday, auto dealer CarMax pulled its sponsorship of the Clippers, saying the statements attributed to Sterling were “completely unacceptable.”
“These views directly conflict with CarMax’s culture of respect for all individuals,” it said in a statement released to ESPN.
“While we have been a proud Clippers sponsor for nine years and support the team, fans and community, these statements necessitate that CarMax end its sponsorship.”
Insurance giant State Farm told ESPN it would monitor the situation and consider its options while it puts its sponsor deal on “pause.”
“State Farm strongly supports and respects diversity and inclusion in its workforce and customers,” a company statement said.
“The remarks attributed to the Clippers’ owner are offensive. While those involved sort out the facts, we will be taking a pause in our relationship with the organization.”
And a representative for Virgin America told TMZ the airline was dropping its sponsorship.
“While we continue to support the fans and the players, Virgin America has made the decision to end its sponsorship of the LA Clippers,” the representative said.
– NBA press conference set –
The NBA said Monday it would stage a press conference on Tuesday about its snap investigation into Sterling’s alleged comments.
Just hours after the remarks first were made public, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Saturday he was looking into the matter.
In the recording, a man, purportedly Sterling, said he did not want his girlfriend associating with blacks or bringing black friends to Clippers games.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” the man says, later adding, “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… and not to bring them to my games.”
The woman was identified only as V. Stiviano, the 20-something woman being sued by Rochelle Sterling because her husband was giving Stiviano expensive cars and money as gifts.
Rochelle Sterling, in a statement Monday first published by the New York Daily News, said it was indeed her husband’s voice on the recording.
“Our family is devastated by the racist comments made by my estranged husband,” she said. “My children and I do not share these despicable views or prejudices.”
– Playoff battle goes on –
The Clippers lost Sunday at Golden State, leveling their best-of-seven Western Conference first-round playoff series at 2-2. The next game in the series is set for Tuesday in Los Angeles.
ESPN reported that singer Tank has decided not to sing the US national anthem before Tuesday’s contest.
Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant was among the latest to push the NBA to yank ownership of the Clippers
“No. He should not continue owning the clippers. #nochance #noway nohow,” Bryant tweeted Monday.
The Clippers’ players — long-time losers having a record-setting season for triumphs — still had the support of fans, with comedian Billy Crystal, a noted famous fan summing up the feelings of many on Twitter.
“He may own the team but they belong to us. Go Clippers!” Crystal posted.
Even as such NBA legends as Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and current NBA greats such as Bryant and LeBron James expressed their outrage over the comments, the Clippers were concerned about what reception they might have in a home game they desperately need to win to sustain their dreams of an NBA title.
“I’ve got a job to get our team right no matter what is circling,” Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers said. “They are getting pulled in so many directions. We have to figure out how to pull them in one direction.”
Kevin Johnson, a former NBA player who is mayor of Sacramento and works with the players union, met with Silver on Sunday while Clippers star Chris Paul, the NBA players union president, tries to focus on the team’s playoff series.
“All players feel that these comments were reprehensible and unacceptable,” Kevin Johnson said.
“They wanted me to communicate a few important points to the commissioner, which I did. They want swift and decisive action.”