Obama responds to alleged racist comments by Clippers' Don Sterling
By Kevin Conlon and Shelby Lin Erdman, CNN
updated 7:01 AM EDT, Sun April 27, 2014
(CNN) -- The racism controversy embroiling Don Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has reached half way around the world to Malaysia, where President Obama is on a diplomatic mission to Asia Pacific nations.
At a press conference with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak Sunday, Obama was asked about racist comments Sterling allegedly made about African-Americans.
"When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don't really have to do anything, you just let them talk. That's what happened here," the President said.
Obama also said Sterling's alleged comments are an example of how "the United States continues to wrestle with the legacy of race and slavery and segregation."
"That's still there, the vestiges of discrimination. We've made enormous strides, but you're going to continue to see this percolate up every so often," Obama said in Malaysia.
Sterling, who has owned the basketball franchise for nearly three decades, is now under investigation by the NBA over the alleged comments.
According to the website TMZ, Sterling made the alleged discriminatory remarks during a 10-minute argument he had with girlfriend V. Stiviano on April 9. TMZ posted a recording of the argument online Friday.
If authentic, the remarks seem to reflect Sterling's embarrassment and frustration with Stiviano over her associating with African-Americans at Clippers games and for posting such pictures on her Instagram account.
Clippers president Andy Roeser on Saturday questioned the recording and suggested a woman -- whom he doesn't mention by name -- was "getting even" with Sterling over a lawsuit.
According to a report from CNN affiliate KCAL/KCBS last month, Rochelle Sterling, the wife of Donald Sterling, filed a lawsuit last month and is seeking damages and property.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that the league's investigation will seek to determine whether the tape is authentic and to figure out the context in which these "offensive and disturbing" comments were made.
But he cautioned that Sterling must be afforded due process, so he would not speculate on any possible punishment, if any -- but said that the investigation will move "extraordinarily quickly."
Speaking about the recording, Roeser said, "we do not know if it is legitimate or it 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."
TMZ has not said who made the recording or how the celebrity-centric website obtained it.
Attempts to reach Stiviano on Saturday were unsuccessful. She is part African-American, according to the recording.
The man alleged to be Sterling takes particular exception to a photo she posted to Instagram with NBA icon Earvin "Magic" Johnson.
"In your lousy f**ing Instagrams, you don't have to have yourself with -- walking with black people," the man says.
"If it's white people, it's OK?" she responds. "If it was Larry Bird, would it make a difference?"
Bird, the longtime Boston Celtics star, was Johnson's NBA rival.
"I've known [Magic] well and he should be admired .... I'm just saying that it's too bad you can't admire him privately," the man on the recording says. "Admire him, bring him here, feed him, f**k him, but don't put [Magic] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games."
Johnson responded Saturday afternoon via his verified Twitter account.
"I feel sorry for my friends Coach Doc Rivers and Chris Paul that they have to work for a man that feels that way about African Americans" read a tweet from @MagicJohnson. "I will never go to a Clippers game again as long as Donald Sterling is the owner," read another.
"We also suggest that African Americans and Latinos should honor his (Sterling's) request and not attend the games," Alice Huffman, the President of the NAACP California State Conference said in a statement released Saturday.
It's the first suggestion of a boycott of the team after the racism allegations.
In a side bar, Sterling was expected to receive a lifetime achievement award at an event next month to mark the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles NAACP.
"If these allegations are proven true, we are extremely disappointed in Mr. Sterling," Huffman said.
She urged the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP to withdraw Sterling's name from the honoree list for the anniversary celebration.
Roeser said Sterling is upset and apologizes for sentiments attributed to him about Earvin Johnson. "[Sterling] has long considered Magic a friend and has only the utmost respect and admiration for him -- both in terms of who he is and what he has achieved."
Sterling is "emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings," Roeser said.
"I don't know if I'm surprised or not," Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said at the team's practice Saturday, adding that he "obviously" didn't like the comments.
Rivers, who is in his first year coaching the team, told reporters that he didn't want the controversy to distract from the playoffs. He said he would be the sole person speaking on behalf of the team.
Miami Heat forward LeBron James was one of several players and former players weighing in on the controversy. James spoke to reporters before the playoff game against the Charlottle Bobcats Saturday night.
"If the reports are true, it's unacceptable. It's unacceptable in our league. It doesn't matter if you're white, black, Hispanic, whatever, all across the races. It's unacceptable and as a commissioner in our league, they have to make a stand, and they have to be very aggressive with it."
"Should this guy continue to be an owner?" asked Shaquille O'Neal, who also called the comments "repugnant."
"We cannot have an NBA owner discriminating against the league," said Charles Barkley. "We're a black league."
Both discussed the issue during the Atlanta Hawks-Indiana Pacers halftime program on TNT, which like CNN, is a division of Time Warner.
The players union's response will be led by NBA player-turned-mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson. "The reported comments made by Clippers owner Donald Sterling are reprehensible and unacceptable," he said in a statement.
Meantime, Sterling will be conspicuously missing from his usual courtside seats. He's agreed not to attend the Clippers palyoff game Sunday in Oakland against the Warriors.