The racism of Donald Sterling was well known in the National Basketball Association before this weekend. In 2009 the real estate mogul and owner of the Los Angeles Clippers paid a record $2.725 million to settle a federal housing discrimination case claiming that he sought to exclude black and Hispanic tenants from his rental properties in Los Angeles. A wrongful termination suit filed against Sterling that same year by NBA legend and former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor alleged that Sterling had a “vision of a Southern plantation-type structure” for the team, with “‘poor black boys from the South’ and a white head coach.” Baylor lost the suit, but his claims added to Sterling’s already poor reputation around the league.
Yet it was a shock to hear Sterling, in a surreptitious recording obtained by TMZ, pleading with his then-girlfriend not to publicize her associations with black people. Everything about the recording is creepy. We should not be hearing this private dispute between an 80-year-old married man with a documented history of cretinous behavior and his twentysomething girlfriend. And Sterling most certainly should not be telling her that it is fine to sleep with black men as long as she doesn’t post pictures of herself with them on Instagram. The NBA says it is investigating the authenticity of the recording. The Clippers’ official statement says that “what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect [Sterling's] views.” It does not deny that he said what is heard.