NBA To Address Racial Rant Allegedly Made By Clippers Owner

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Donald Sterling is said to be on a tape that was released to the media in which he allegedly made racist comments. The NBA is investigating whether it is Sterling on the tape.


The NBA has scheduled a big announcement for this afternoon. They'll address the allegations against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. He's accused of going on a racist rant, all caught on an audio tape made public Friday. The situation has infuriated people in the NBA and also elsewhere. It's certainly become a major distraction for the Clippers, who are trying to focus on basketball.

They face Golden State tonight for Game 5 of their first round series, which is tied. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman has been following the story and joins us on the line. And Tom, what are you expecting from the NBA at this news conference that we're going to have this afternoon?

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Yeah, David, the feeling is most likely NBA commissioner Adam Silver will announce some form of punishment for Donald Sterling, a fine, a suspension, maybe both. There's a good chance if sanctions are announced, it won't be the end of things, but more a show of getting something done quickly. Silver has been on the job just a few months. He wants to take a strong stand on something that's become a real stain on the league.

And also we are in the midst of one of the best post-seasons in memory and the commissioner would really like to turn attention back to great basketball.

GREENE: Well, Tom, you're mentioning things like fines, suspensions. I mean some people are so angry about these comments, they want Sterling removed as an owner. Is that even possible?

GOLDMAN: The NBA's constitution, which is not a public document so we really don't know for sure, reportedly only allows for removal of an owner if gambling is involved. Now, another owner weighed in on another issue yesterday. It was interesting. Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks does not think that Donald Sterling should be removed.

Cuban, who's always outspoken, commented on the issue behind this scandal other than racism, the issue of private/public discourse. Sterling allegedly made the comments in his home unaware he was being taped. Cuban said, and I quote: If we're taking something somebody said in their home and we're trying to turn it into something that leads to you being forced to divest property in any way, that's not the United States of America. I don't want to be part of that.

GREENE: You know, it's interesting, all the twists and turns since this became public. I hear a lot of people who are not sports fans at all talking about this story. I mean it's really captured the attention of the country.

GOLDMAN: It has. You know, for a number of reasons. Race in America is always an inflammatory, volatile thing. There's a strong cultural connection between African-Americans and the NBA, and another possible reason it's touched a nerve is because it threatens this ideal we have that sometimes only plays out in sport, people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds working together toward a common goal.

I had an interesting talk with author David Shields. He wrote the book "Black Planet" back in 1999. It's about race and the NBA, a subject obviously as pertinent today as it was then. Now, while Shields believes the comments Sterling allegedly made are abhorrent, he finds all the commentary irrelevant about how awful Sterling is.

He says it's just a lot of people taking a safe, high moral stand. What Shields says we need to do is dig deeper and look at the dichotomy in Sterling's life, at once filled with alleged hateful racist comments, at the same his girlfriend, who allegedly was on the tape with him, reportedly is of black and Mexican heritage. He owns an NBA team filled with black players in a league that's predominantly African-American.

And it's in those contradictions, Shields says, we can learn more about what he calls the nitty-gritty of how racism really operates.

GREENE: So maybe a moment, he's saying, to think about racism and learn from it and while doing that, I mean of course there's also basketball to be played. The Clippers have a really big game tonight. I mean this has to be a major distraction.

GOLDMAN: You know, I think it is. They're thinking about it. They had a protest the other day before Game 4 when they took off their shooting shirts and laid them on the center of the court. You know, we're expecting maybe protests outside Staples Center in L.A. tonight, a possible statement from head coach Doc Rivers, who's African-American, or players, a statement to the crowd, perhaps more silent protests by players.

It'll be interesting to see who's there. Mark Jackson, the coach for the Golden State Warriors, is telling people they should boycott and stay away. Doc Rivers says don't boycott. We need you. So whatever happens, it won't be the game that everyone expected at the start of this series, certainly.

GREENE: Yeah, that's for sure. Tom Goldman, NPR sports correspondent. Thanks, as always, Tom.

GOLDMAN: Thank you.

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