Embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, banned for life by the NBA for racist remarks, insisted “I am not a racist” in comments on a recording made public Thursday.
Celebrity website RadarOnline posted what it called a “secret audio recording” of Sterling reacting to the scandal, which erupted last month and created a firestorm of outrage that led to his unprecedented punishment.
“You think I’m a racist?” Sterling asks a friend in a telephone call. “You think I have anything in the world but love for everybody? You don’t think that! You know I’m not a racist.”
In his original comments revealed on celebrity website TMZ, the 80-year-old billionaire real estate tycoon told his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, that he did not want her to bring black people to Clippers games or post photos of herself on social media with black people.
That prompted NBA commissioner Adam Silver to ban Sterling from the league for life, impose the maximum allowable fine of $2.5 million and start the proceedings needed for the other 29 NBA club owners to strip the Clippers from Sterling.
In the latest recordings, Sterling indicates that he will not surrender control of the Clippers without a fight.
“You can’t force someone to sell property in America,” Sterling says on the RadarOnline recordings. “I’m a lawyer. That’s my opinion.”
While the threat of losing the Clippers could be enough to push Sterling to sell a team that is valued at nearly $600 million, he could also take the NBA to court.
Sterling has won several past real estate court cases, showing no fear of pursuing legal fights to defend his positions.
RadarOnline said its source for the recording produced an affidavit declaring the voice in the phone call was that of Sterling, who defended himself after being vilified.
“I grew up in East L.A. I was the president of the high school there. And I’m a Jew,” Sterling said. “And 50 percent of the people there were black and 40 percent were Hispanic… so I mean, people must have a good feeling for me.”
– ‘It breaks my heart’ –
Sterling also said he was upset at Magic Johnson, whose being pictured in a photo that Stiviano posted on social media prompted the comments that touched off the controversy.
“It breaks my heart that Magic Johnson, a guy that I respect so much, wouldn’t stand up and say, ‘Well let’s get the facts. Let’s get him and talk to him,'” Sterling said.
“Nobody tried. Nobody.”
Several media outlets tried in vain to reach Sterling for comments in the days following the release of the recordings, although Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers said he was among those who said he did not try to contact Sterling.
Sterling, who said he was in his Beverly Hills mansion and had not spoken to Clippers star player Blake Griffin, expressed outrage at being called a racist despite having admitted to Silver he uttered the earlier remarks insulting blacks in a private conversation that was recorded by Stiviano.
“How can you be in this business and be a racist?” Sterling says in the latest recording. “Do you think I tell the coach to get white players? Or to get the best player he can get?”
Many critics of Sterling over the years have wondered if his main motivation with the Clippers was winning over profit.
The team was a long-time loser on the court until recent years when Griffin and Chris Paul combined to make the perennial doormats a contender.
In several instances, the Clippers would allow talented players to leave for more lucrative deals rather than pitch high-money offers to try and entice them to stay and build for more success around them.
The Clippers managed only one winning season from the time Sterling bought them in 1981 until 2006, then suffered five more losing campaigns until turning into a winner the past three years with Griffin playing a major role.
Despite the distraction of Sterling’s remarks, the Clippers defeated Golden State in the first round of the NBA playoffs and are 1-1 with Oklahoma City in the best-of-seven second round. The team has never won more than one playoff round in any year in team history.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]