SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Donald Sterling was banned from basketball for life this week. The owner of the Los Angeles Clippers was banished for racist remarks. Those comments were recorded by a woman who was once his girlfriend. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, said that he believes the punishment announced by National Basketball Association Commissioner, Adam Silver, is wise and just, but he raised questions about why Donald Sterling's conduct for the past 30 years was tolerated by his fellow owners and if a private recording should be used against Donald Sterling.
Mr. Abdul-Jabbar, who's a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, an educator and an activist, joins us from Southern California. He's also the producer of a new film, "On the Shoulders of Giants." Mr. Abdul-Jabbar, thanks so much for being with us.
KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: Oh, nice to talk to you.
SIMON: Let me just get you to share your viewpoint with us. You think Donald Sterling was a problem long before these remarks were publicized.
ABDUL-JABBAR: Oh yeah, certainly. And a whole lot of things have come to light, just the way he's dealt with people. It's a pretty shameful record, you know, just his indifference to other people's suffering and discomfort. It's really sad.
SIMON: What about the charges of racism? Because he was about to receive an award for the NAACP in Southern California. And in fact, on Friday, the head of the NAACP offered his resignation.
ABDUL-JABBAR: Right. And it was the second time that they were going to give it to him. But the things that Mr. Sterling has said - he said, he didn't want blacks running his properties because they smell, and they attract vermin. He said this in a deposition.
He ended up having to pay a fine for discriminating against black and Latino people who wanted to rent some of his rental properties. He doesn't treat people very well. It's all about him making money. And of course, he's done a very good job of that.
SIMON: At the same time, Mr. Abdul-Jabbar, I was struck by the reservations you had about a private recording being used.
ABDUL-JABBAR: And we don't know everything about that that we need to, you know, how did they get that recording? TMZ released it. Where they got it, no one has really been very clear on that. But it just seemed to, like, add to the whole tawdry flavor of this whole incident.
SIMON: How do you rate the reaction of the NBA?
ABDUL-JABBAR: I think the NBA did a great job in dealing with this issue. I think Commissioner Silver was right on the money with his tone, and it's going to have a great effect. And it's given a whole lot of people confidence. Even people in the Clippers corporate structure are, like, happy that Mr. Sterling no longer can dictate how the franchise is run, and there's light now at the end of the tunnel.
SIMON: Would it please you if the NBA were to make a particular effort to try and bring a minority owner to the Clippers?
ABDUL-JABBAR: It doesn't really matter who buys the franchise. If they do manage to force the sale, I think whoever buys it will have at least an idea of how to conduct themselves publicly and be a part of what the NBA is all about, which is about inclusion. It's supposed to be a meritocracy. We'd like to see those values supported and reflected in the faces of the owners.
SIMON: Were you impressed by how players of all teams and all backgrounds seemed to stand together on this?
ABDUL-JABBAR: Yeah. I was really impressed by the fact that all of the players understood the issue pretty quickly. David West, he plays for the Indiana Pacers, he immediately pointed out the fact that this is just the plantation economy and plantation mentality raising its head again.
But a number of the players that protested, raised their voices to say that we can't have this, it was wonderful. And it got so much support from fans and people who, you know, don't even have any real interest in sports but just don't like to see bigotry expressed so blatantly and with no regard for the harm that it's doing.
SIMON: Mr. Abdul-Jabbar, tell us about your new film, "On the Shoulders of Giants."
ABDUL-JABBAR: My film is about the early days of professional basketball. And it's really interesting that we're going through all this because in my film, I detailed the efforts that black Americans made to integrate professional basketball back in the 1920s and '30s and '40s when the professional game was just taking off. So, you know, if you go to TheGreatestTeam.com, you can find out about the book and the movie. And hopefully, people will be interested enough to check it out. It's a very interesting and informative film.
SIMON: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, thank you very much for speaking with us.
ABDUL-JABBAR: It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.