President Barack Obama said on Sunday that comments reported to have been made by the owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers basketball team were “incredibly offensive racist statements.”
The NBA is investigating an audio recording posted online of Clippers owner Donald Sterling allegedly telling his girlfriend not to post photographs of herself with black people and not to bring African-Americans to Clippers games, league officials said on Saturday.
“When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk,” Obama said when asked about the controversy during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Obama said he was confident NBA Commissioner Adam Silver would deal with the issue.
“Obviously the NBA is a league that is beloved by fans across the country,” Obama, America’s first black president, said. “It’s got an awful lot of African American players steeped in African American culture.”
He said the controversy was also an example of how the United States continues to wrestle with the legacy of race, and he likened that struggle to Malaysia’s effort to foster a harmonious multi-ethnic society.
Celebrity news site TMZ.com published the 10-minute recording on its website late on Friday, describing it as a taped conversation between the billionaire Sterling and a model who goes by the name V. Stiviano.
“The audio recording posted by TMZ is truly offensive and disturbing, and we intend to get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible,” Silver said on Saturday night.
The recording was sharply criticized by civil rights leaders, fans and players. It was not immediately clear when and how the conversation was recorded.
Silver said the league would move swiftly to determine the authenticity of the recording and its context.
Clippers President Andy Roeser issued a statement saying they have listened to the tape on TMZ.
“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,” the statement said. “Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings.”