April 30, 2014
National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver has banned Los Angeles Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling for life, fined him $2.5 million, and will urge the board of governors to force a sale of the team following the publication of a recorded conversation between Sterling and his ex-mistress, V. Stiviano, during which Sterling made racist comments.
Was it legal for Stiviano to record the conversation? If the conversation was private, that is, not held in a public or quasi-public place, then in California, where I believe the recording was made, the consent of all parties to the conversation is required before it can be recorded. Whether the recordings are legal or not, once they are made public, the damage to Sterling is irrevocable.
Stiviano is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family, alleging that she embezzled more than $1.8 million. Sterling claims Stiviano said she would ‘get even.'” Stiviano certainly got even. Donald Trump remarked Stiviano is the “girlfriend from hell.”
Former basketball player Charles Barkley, now a CNN and TNT analyst, called the NBA a “black league.” The Clippers are a predominately African-American team with an African American coach. However, there is no evidence that Sterling made overt racist remarks or discriminated against team members. Elgin Baylor, the Clipper’s executive vice president and general manager from 1986 to 2008, did sue Sterling, however, in 2009 for racial discrimination. Baylor later dropped the racial discrimination claim but maintained an age discrimination claim. The jury found for Sterling in 2011.
Sterling’s recorded comments are reprehensible and action by the NBA was certainly expected. However, it should be noted that Sterling’s racism was not a big surprise to basketball community. In 2009, Sterling agreed to a $2.8 million settlement in a case that alleged discrimination against African Americans, Latinos and others at apartment buildings he owned in Los Angeles. The-then tenants alleged Sterling’s property managers used racial slurs against them.
Another federal lawsuit, filed in 2003 by the Housing Rights Center and 19 tenants, accused Sterling of stating his preference not to rent to Latinos because, “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building.” The lawsuit also accused him of saying “black tenants smell and attract vermin.” The allegations included Sterling refusing to rent to non-Koreans in Koreatown and African Americans in Beverly Hills.
Though Sterling settled the case for $5 million, neither the NBA Commissioner or the basketball community took action.
Was there a rush to judgement? There is no indication that the NBA had conducted an investigation as to the authenticity or integrity of the recordings, and Sterling was not provided an opportunity to explain or defend himself.
The matter is probably not over. Sterling has said he will not sell the team. I see lots of litigation on the horizon.