Al Sharpton Takes Aim at NBA Business Partners Over Sterling

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton said he’s “totally outraged” the National Basketball Association has yet to discipline Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, and that beginning today he’s targeting marketing and broadcast partners as well as advertisers in an effort to pressure the league into imposing a punishment.

The NBA pledged to investigate “extraordinarily quickly” a recording on which, according to website TMZ, Sterling told his girlfriend he didn’t want her to bring black people to his games after she posted a photo of herself with Hall-of-Famer Magic Johnson on Instagram. The league in a statement said it would hold a press conference tomorrow to make an announcement about its investigation involving Sterling.

“I’m totally outraged that they are stalling on this,” Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, said in a telephone interview. “It does not take an investigation. Either he is the man on the tape or not. And he has not said unequivocally that he is not.”

Sharpton said he hasn’t spoken with Silver, who took over for Commissioner David Stern on Feb. 1. He has spoken with Johnson, a part owner of baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers who during ABC’s playoff pregame show said Sterling “shouldn’t own a team anymore.”

Sharpton agrees, saying he wants the league to insist that Sterling sell the club.

“If this man is not penalized and dealt with we are then saying that in official mainstream sports in America that racism and bigotry is acceptable and excusable,” Sharpton said. “At this point we’re calling for his removal. If something else is possible they’ve got to put it on the table. They’ve put nothing on the table but some claim we’re going to investigate. What is there to investigate? Either it’s his voice or not, and no one has said it’s not.”

CarMax Terminates

At least one company isn’t waiting for the league’s investigation to conclude.

CarMax Inc. today ended its nine-year association with the Clippers, saying in a statement the statements attributed to Sterling are “completely unacceptable.”

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. said it’s “taking a pause” in its relationship with the team, whose All-Star point guard, Chris Paul, is a company endorser and president of the NBA Players’ Association.

Due Process

Silver said in a statement that “All members of the NBA family should be afforded due process and a fair opportunity to present their side of any controversy. The core of the investigation is understanding whether the tape is authentic, interviewing Mr. Sterling and interviewing the woman as well and understanding the context in which it was recorded.”

The Clippers and Golden State Warriors are tied two games apiece in their best-of-seven first-round playoff series. Game 5 is Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Clippers President Andy Roeser said the team doesn’t yet know if the audio is legitimate or has been altered. “We do know that the woman on the tape -- who we believe released it to TMZ -- is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family alleging that she embezzled more than $1.8 million, who told Mr. Sterling that she would ‘‘get even,’’’ Roeser said. ‘‘Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings.’’

NBA Partners

Sharpton wouldn’t say which companies or networks he intends to contact. Walt Disney Co.’s ABC and ESPN are NBA broadcast partners. Staples Inc. has its name on the downtown Los Angeles arena the Clippers share with basketball’s Lakers and hockey’s Kings. The NBA’s marketing partners include Coca-Cola Co., Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, Adidas AG, Nike Inc., American Express Co. and State Farm Life Insurance Co., which uses Clippers All-Star and NBA Players Association President Chris Paul in its advertising.

‘‘You’re dealing with major corporations that have stockholders, that have to deal with municipal, state and federal governments that don’t want to have their business complicated on why they’re investing in a business with a guy who would say something like this,” Sharpton said, adding that he plans to organize rallies in Los Angeles and New York. “When you start hearing from corporations that have stockholders and boards of directors, they will have to deal with different options.”

NBA Diversity

The NBA under Stern was often recognized for its commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Among those who have admonished or lambasted the words attributed to Sterling are President Barack Obama, Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan and the Miami Heat’s LeBron James.

“This is not about an apology and a check. This is about making it real clear that we cannot tolerate this for a moment in the NBA,” Sharpton said. “It’s not about meeting and talking. It’s about seeing some action.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.