LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Los Angeles Clippers players staged a protest at a playoff game on Sunday against racist comments allegedly made by team owner Donald Sterling, turning their warm-up jerseys inside-out to hide the team name before a loss to the Golden State Warriors.
The silent demonstration came as Sterling faced a firestorm of criticism over a 10-minute recording obtained by celebrity news website TMZ in which a man reported to be the NBA owner tells a woman not to post photographs of herself with black people online and not to bring African-Americans to Clippers games.
The taped remarks rocked the National Basketball Association (NBA), where most of the players are black, and left its officials scrambling to address the scandal that has threatened to overshadow the playoffs.
Ahead of the game against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Clippers players gathered at center court, dropped sweat-jackets with the team’s name around the tip-off circle and then came out with their warm-up jerseys inside-out, keeping the “Clippers” name off of their chests.
The players had discussed boycotting the game, star guard Chris Paul told reporters. They came out for the game in their normal jerseys, but with black socks and bands that game announcers said were also part of a protest.
Players did not speak of the clothing protest ahead of the game. Sterling did not attend and the Clippers lost the game, 97-118 as their opponents, the Golden State Warriors, evened the playoff series at two games each.
Afterward Clippers coach Doc Rivers declined to blame the loss on the furor, saying that the Warriors had outplayed his team and taking responsibility for failing to prepare them mentally for the big game.
“Certainly I believe everybody was affected by what took place. I don’t think it was just the Clippers. I think it’s insulting to all of us. I think both teams were somewhat bothered by what took place the last 24 hours,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said.
Sterling, who made his fortune in real estate, has not made any public comment.
Clippers President Andy Roeser has issued a statement saying he had listened to the recording on TMZ and had not yet determined if it was legitimate or had been “altered” somehow.
“Mr Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life,” Roeser said in the statement.
‘DON‘T BRING HIM TO MY GAMES’
The recording appears to be part of an argument between Sterling and a model who uses the name V. Stiviano about photographs posted to Instagram.
“People call you and tell you that I have black people on my Instagram. And it bothers you,” the voice alleged to be Stiviano’s says, according to the recording at TMZ.com. She also says she herself is of Latino and black heritage.
“Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to promo ... broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” the voice alleged to be Sterling’s says.
Sterling is also allegedly heard telling the woman not to post photos of herself with Earvin “Magic” Johnson. “And don’t bring him to my games, OK?”
Johnson, a former Los Angeles Lakers star, during the broadcast of the game on Sunday called on Sterling to give up his ownership of the team if the comments were proven to be his.
“When you’ve got the president of the United States saying this is bad, you’ve got all the fans around country, of different races around country saying this is bad, it’s time,” Johnson said.
President Barack Obama, who was asked about the controversy while traveling in Malaysia, said the comments were “incredibly offensive racist statements”.
“When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk,” Obama said when asked about the controversy during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The NBA has said it was investigating the recording, described by Commissioner Adam Silver as “truly offensive and disturbing”. It could make a ruling by Tuesday, TV network ABC reported in its game broadcast.
Sacramento mayor and former NBA player Kevin Johnson, who is assisting the players’ union on Sterling, said if the allegations are true, the players want swift and extreme action by NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
“They are just outraged,” Johnson told ABC in an interview at Sunday’s game. “The players want their voices to be heard. They don’t want Adam Silver to just make the decision without their input. Thirdly, they want swift and decisive action. They want Adam to be as extreme and to do the maximum whatever the sanctions are allowed based on the bylaws and the constitution.”
“This is a binding moment in the history of the NBA,” said Johnson, who met with Silver on Sunday.
The NAACP said on Sunday that the nation’s oldest civil rights group will not honor Sterling with a lifetime achievement award it planned to give the Clippers owner next month because of the controversy over the comments.
Sports news website Deadspin on Sunday posted more excerpts from what is said was a conversation between Sterling and the same woman. On it, Sterling is asked why he has a dim view of blacks, especially since his team has many black players.
“I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? ... Do I make the game, or do they make the game?” he is alleged to have said.
Sterling has faced allegations of discriminatory conduct in the past. In 2009, he paid $2.7 million to settle a case brought by the U.S. Justice Department which accused him of housing discrimination against blacks and Hispanics.
Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz, Ben Everill, Gene Cherry, Matt Spetalnick and Ronald Grover; Editing by Lynne O'Donnell and Sandra Maler