Rafu Staff and Wire Service Reports
Sports news in Southern California continued to be dominated Monday by the fallout from racially inflammatory comments reportedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Several sponsors have cut or suspended their relationships with the team, players and coaches have expressed their displeasure and fans are threatening boycotts of the ongoing playoffs.
The repercussions are being felt across the L.A. area, including in the Japanese American community, which since 2005 has worked with the Clippers to hold a community night each season.
“It took years and years for the team to get to a point where they are real contenders, and all it took was one comment by the owner to sink all of that work,” said John Tamaki, a self-proclaimed die-hard Clippers fan who has been at the forefront of making Japanese American Community Night happen each year.
“The NBA is going to have to do something to oust him,” Tamaki said. “If he’s still here next year, all the players and coaches are going to want to leave.”
Tamaki worked with Clippers staff and Nisei Week to originate the community night during the 2005 pre-season schedule, when Yuta Tabuse was vying for a roster spot with the team. Tabuse went on to become the first Japanese-born player to appear in an NBA game – as a member of the Phoenix Suns. The Clippers cut him as the pre-season schedule ended.
The Clippers are tied in their first-round playoff series with the Golden State Warriors, and Game 5 of the series is scheduled for tonight at Staples Center. There has been talk of protests and demonstration at the games, and Tamaki said many fans are banding together to forgo wearing team colors at the game.
“Many of us are going to be wearing all black,” he said.
Meanwhile, several advertisers are backing away from the Clippers after the racist comments attributed to the team’s owner. Mercedes-Benz USA said Monday its dealerships are ending their sponsorship of the Clippers in the wake of comments allegedly made by Sterling. Used car dealership chain CarMax, airline Virgin America, and the Chumash Casino Resort are doing the same.
Four other sponsors, Kia Motors America, energy drink maker Red Bull, hardwood flooring retailer Lumber Liquidators and Yokohama Tire, said they are suspending their advertising and sponsorship activities with the team. Yet another sponsor, insurer State Farm, said it “will be taking a pause in our relationship with the organization.”
Yokohama issued a statement that read in part, “Yokohama Tire Corporation does not tolerate discrimination in any fashion. The alleged remarks by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling are completely unacceptable and we find it necessary to immediately suspend our sponsorship of the organization as a result.”
The Clippers organization has largely declined to comment on the situation as of Monday afternoon.
The NAACP has decided not to honor Sterling with a lifetime achievement award from its Los Angeles chapter after the comments came to light.
Donations made by Sterling, who has owned the team since 1981, will be returned, Leon Jenkins, president of the Los Angeles NAACP, said at a news conference Monday. Jenkins wouldn’t say how much money was involved.
“There is a personal, economic, and social price that Mr. Sterling must pay for his attempt to turn back the clock on race relations,” he said.
Sterling, 80, had been slated to receive the honor on May 15 as part of the 100th anniversary celebration of the Los Angeles branch of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. Sterling’s purported comments urging a woman to not bring black people to his team’s games have overshadowed the NBA’s opening playoff round and prompted an NBA investigation. The NBA is planning a Tuesday news conference to discuss the probe.
There still has been no official confirmation that Sterling is on the recording, portions of which were released over the weekend by TMZ and Deadspin.
Jenkins was asked how detrimental he considered Sterling’s alleged remarks.
“On a scale of one to ten? Eleven,” he said. “It goes back to a segregation system and a time that nobody in America is proud of.”
Sterling was chosen to receive the award because of his long history of donating to minority charities and giving game tickets to inner city children, Jenkins said. The NAACP has honored Sterling several times in the past.
Former Lakers great and current L.A. Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson is reportedly “absolutely interested” in purchasing the Clippers, should Sterling decide – or be pressured – to sell.
Johnson, who is mentioned by name in the recorded rant, said he would not attend Clippers games as long as Sterling owns the team.
“He shouldn’t own a team anymore,” Johnson said on Sunday.
Longtime Rafu sports columnist Jordan Ikeda said the Clippers’ players as a team need to take a stand in the face of the current situation.
“Whether you feel freedom of speech protects the opinion of even the lowest sort, or that this line of thinking borders on a slave master’s mentality, it’s truly unfortunate that a well-known racist has hijacked the headlines away from a wild and fantastic NBA playoffs,” Ikeda said.
“Since Sterling bought the Clippers three decades ago, the league has undergone a radical evolution into a multi-ethnic sport with players from around the world.
“Sterling, at best, represents an archaic worldview of a man far removed from reality,” Ikeda added. “Whether or not that is enough to forcibly remove him from ownership is another question entirely.”
Following the team’s workout on Saturday, head coach Doc Rivers said their focus needs to remain on their playoff opponents.
“It upsets all of us. There is not one guy who is happy with this situation,” he said.