Race
2:19 am
Tue April 29, 2014

Sterling's Tarnished History Of Alleged Discrimination

Originally published on Tue April 29, 2014 11:52 am

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been at the heart of racial controversies before.

Sterling, one of the longest-tenured owners of an NBA franchise, is alleged to have made racist comments in an audio tape that was first posted by the celebrity gossip site TMZ.

He is also a prominent real estate mogul in LA who, ironically, has been honored for his philanthropy by the local NAACP.

The NBA says it will announce findings Tuesday afternoon from its investigation into the controversy.

A Fortune In Real Estate

Forbes has estimated Donald Sterling's net worth at $1.9 billion. His lavish Beverly Hills life is a long way from his apparent humble beginnings, growing up as a child of Jewish immigrants in the east Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights in the 1930s.

It was around the time that he was in law school that he reportedly changed his name from Tokowitz to what he considered a more reputable one, Sterling.

He started his career as a personal injury attorney, turning that success to real estate, where he soon made a fortune. He bought the then-San Diego Clippers in 1981 and three years later moved them to LA, where he was building up his real estate empire.

"Donald Sterling has long been considered among the worst owners in professional sports history," says Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke, who has covered Sterling at the paper since the late 1980s. "The owner of a losing team, he didn't really care if the Clippers ever won. But far worse than any of that has been his 30-year history of racism here in Los Angeles."

Sterling has faced countless accusations of housing discrimination over the years. The most egregious involved a lawsuit that ended in a $2.7 million settlement with the Justice Department in 2009. In that case, he was accused of discriminating against black and Latino tenants in the apartment buildings he owned.

Then there was the unsuccessful wrongful termination suit brought against Sterling by NBA Hall of Famer and former Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor. He claimed Sterling once said he wanted a "white Southern coach coaching poor black players."

'It Was Just Donald Sterling'

Plaschke says it's a troubling pattern that most everyone knew about.

"Including the NBA," he says, "but they never did anything about it because it was just the Clippers and it was just Donald Sterling."

One strange twist to the Sterling saga: He was just about to receive a lifetime achievement award by the local chapter of the NAACP. It would have been his second, actually, until the group reconsidered Monday.

In fact, Sterling has been recognized frequently here over the years for his philanthropy. Even as his teams were, until recently, the laughing stock of the league, his Clippers Foundation was long praised for its charity work.

Lining Up To Castigate Sterling

LA Councilman and former Police Chief Bernard Parks considers Sterling's philanthropy a smoke screen. He says it also speaks to a broader problem.

"Nonprofits and organizations that rely on contributions often will turn a blind eye to indiscretions by their donors because they are getting funding," he says.

Parks says he will introduce a resolution at City Hall on Tuesday calling on local newspapers to stop running a weekly ad that promotes real estate and community activities that Sterling funds. It also calls on the NBA to take swift action.

Local leaders and NBA stars, from Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Magic Johnson, have lined up to offer bitter rebukes of Sterling since the audio recordings surfaced. His estranged wife of 50 years, Rochelle Sterling, has also condemned them.

On Monday, Clippers Coach Doc Rivers told reporters that he believes unquestionably that it is Sterling on the tapes.

"You know, I haven't given him his due process," Rivers said. "I haven't given him an opportunity to explain himself, and quite honestly, right now I don't want him to."

Donald Sterling will learn what, if any, discipline he faces later Tuesday, when the NBA holds a news conference ahead of Game 5 in the Clippers' series against Golden State. That game, Tuesday night in LA, will be the first home-court game for the Clippers since the tapes were released.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

We're going to learn about Donald Sterling's fate later today. The NBA has scheduled an afternoon news conference. The league has been investigating racists comments caught on an audiotape and allegedly made by Sterling, who owns the Los Angeles Clippers. This morning, we'll learn more about the man himself. Sterling is one of the most powerful real estate moguls in Los Angeles. He is also familiar with racial controversies.

Here's more from NPR's Kirk Siegler.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Forbes has estimated Donald Sterling's net worth at $1.9 billion. His lavish Beverly Hills life is a long way from his apparent humble beginnings, growing up as a child of Jewish immigrants in the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights in the 1930s. It was around the time that he was in law school that he reportedly changed his name from Tokowitz to what he considered more reputable, Sterling. He started his career as a personal injury attorney. He turned that success into real estate, where he soon made a fortune. He bought the then-San Diego Clippers in 1981, and three years later, moved them to L.A., where he was building up his real estate empire.

BILL PLASCHKE: Donald Sterling has long been considered among the worst owners in professional sports history.

SIEGLER: Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke has covered Sterling at the paper since the late '80s.

PLASCHKE: The owner of a losing team, he didn't really care if the Clippers ever won, but far worse than any of that has been his 30-year history of racism here in Los Angeles.

SIEGLER: Sterling has faced countless accusations of housing discrimination over the years. The most egregious involved a lawsuit that ended in a $2.7 million settlement with the Justice Department in 2009. In that case, he was accused of discriminating against black and Latino tenants in the apartment buildings he owned. And then there was the unsuccessful wrongful termination suit brought against Sterling by NBA Hall-of-Famer and former Clippers GM Elgin Baylor. He claimed Sterling once said he wanted a, quote, "white, southern coach coaching poor, black players." Bill Plaschke says it's a troubling pattern that most everyone already knew about.

PLASCHKE: Including the NBA, but they never did anything about it, because it was just the Clippers and it was just Donald Sterling.

SIEGLER: One strange twist to the Sterling saga: He was just about to receive a lifetime achievement award by the local chapter of the NAACP. It would have been his second, actually, until the group pulled out Monday. In fact, Sterling has been recognized frequently here over the years for his philanthropy. Even as his teams were the laughing stock of the league until recently, his Clippers Foundation was long-praised for its charity work. L.A. city councilman and former chief of the LAPD Bernard Parks considers Sterling's philanthropy a smoke screen. He says it also speaks to a broader problem.

BERNARD PARKS: Non-profits and organizations that rely on contributions often will turn a blind eye to indiscretions by their donor because they are getting funding.

SIEGLER: Parks will introduce a resolution at City Hall today calling on local newspapers to stop running a weekly ad that promotes real estate and community activities that Sterling funds. It also calls on the NBA to take swift action. A long list of local leaders and NBA stars - from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Magic Johnson - have offered bitter rebukes of Sterling since the audio recordings surfaced. His estranged wife of 50 years, Rochelle Sterling, has also condemned them. And yesterday, Clippers coach Doc Rivers told reporters that he believed unquestionably that it's Sterling on the tapes.

DOC RIVERS: You know, I haven't given him his due process, I haven't given him an opportunity to explain himself, and quite honestly, right now, I don't want him to.

SIEGLER: Donald Sterling will learn what, if any, discipline he faces later today when the NBA holds a press conference ahead of Game Five in the Clippers' series against Golden State. That game is tonight, here in Los Angeles.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.