Players from the Los Angeles Clippers have staged a protest at a playoff game over racist comments allegedly made by the basketball team’s owner Donald Sterling, turning their warm-up jerseys inside-out to hide the team name before a loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Sunday’s silent demonstration came as Sterling faced a barrage of criticism over a 10-minute recording obtained by celebrity news website TMZ, in which a man reported to be Sterling 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 have 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 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 Reuters news agency reported.
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, which Sterling did not attend.
The Clippers lost the game, 97-118, as their opponents, the Golden State Warriors, evened the playoff series at two games each.
‘Insulting to all’
Afterward, Clippers coach Doc Rivers declined to blame the loss on the furore, saying that the Warriors had outplayed his team and took 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,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said
“I think both teams were somewhat bothered by what took place the last 24 hours.”
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,” Roeser said in the statement.
“It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life.”
But Sterling has faced allegations of discriminatory conduct in the past. In 2009, he paid $2.7m to settle a case brought by the US Justice Department which accused him of housing discrimination against blacks and Hispanics.
The NBA said it was investigating the recording, described by its Commissioner Adam Silver as “truly offensive and disturbing”.
It could make a ruling by Tuesday, US TV network ABC reported in its game broadcast.
Sacramento mayor and former NBA player Kevin Johnson, who is assisting the players’ union over the affair, said if the allegations are true, the players want swift and extreme action by 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 National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People said on Sunday it will not honour 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.