Who Is Donald Sterling and How Did He Become Synonymous With Bigotry?

Jewish Hoops Owner Changed Name — Courts Controversy

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By Danny Miller

Published April 29, 2014, issue of May 09, 2014.
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The owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team may be well on the way to making his name, “Donald Sterling,” virtually synonymous in the public’s mind with bigotry.

But that is not the name he was actually born with.

Donald Tokowitz was born to Jewish immigrants in Chicago who had, in fact, fled Eastern Europe to get away from the kind of attitudes their son — if it is confirmed that it is him — was caught on tape adamantly defending as part of a “culture.”

Arriving in L.A. with his parents as a child, the future Donald Sterling was raised in East L.A.’s then-predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights, the only son of a produce peddler.

UPDATE: Donald Sterling banned for life by NBA for racist rant.

In an interview, he once claimed that his father changed the family name when he was young. But friends say that he changed it to Sterling himself in the early 1960s.

“I asked him why,” a coworker told Los Angeles magazine in 1999. “He said, ‘You have to name yourself after something that’s really good, that people have confidence in. People want to know that you’re the best.’”

Today, Sterling’s relationship with the Jewish community cannot be described as a close one. But it exists. Or, at least, it has existed; Since the release over the weekend of a tape that purports to catch the 80-year-old Sterling and his reportedly 31-year-old girlfriend in an argument in which he repeatedly voices racist sentiments towards blacks, Jewish groups have been joining in the chorus of condemnation of him.

“The remarks attributed to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling are reprehensible,” said Abraham H. Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director in a statement released April 28. “If the National Basketball Association’s investigation reveals that Mr. Sterling in fact made these racist and intolerant statements, we expect and anticipate a swift and forceful response.”

Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the group’s president, Richard Skolnik, deemed it “especially disturbing to read about the hideously racist comments” attributed to Sterling in the run-up to Yom HaShoah on April 28—a day on which Jews around the world recall those slaughtered in the Holocaust.


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