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Lowell Cohn: Remarks in alleged Sterling recording are sad, troubling


Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is a racist.

He certainly seems to be. Go listen to his nine-minute conversation with his girlfriend on TMZ and you'll hear disturbing things, shocking things he reportedly told her. He claims the tape may have been altered. Perhaps.

Here's a sample of him allegedly talking to his girlfriend:

"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?"

"You can sleep with (black people). You can bring them in. You can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that (Instagram) and not to bring them to my games."

"I'm just saying, in your lousy (expletive) Instagrams, you don't have to have yourself with, walking with black people."

"Don't put him (Magic Johnson) on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games."

It is sad and troubling for anyone to think and say those things. It's especially sad for a team owner whose star players are black to hold these feelings, to say these awful things — if he really said them.

Before we move on, the issue may not be as simple as it seems. Did he really say these hateful things? If he did, he did not say them publicly. He did not show up at the Staples Center and go on a racist rant like that horrible Cliven Bundy routinely does at his ranch so we'll see and hear him on our TV sets.

Sterling apparently thought he was speaking privately to his girlfriend. He did not know she was recording him — I assume she recorded him. He did not know she would give the tape to TMZ — I assume she gave the tape to TMZ.

I am not saying any of this absolves Sterling. Of course, it doesn't. He comes off horrible. But many people have awful private thoughts they do not make public. He never intended to make this stuff public, and his girlfriend seems to have ratted him out — ratted out the rat. And now everyone is in a mess — Sterling, his girlfriend, the Clippers, the Warriors, the NBA, you and I.

This playoff series between his Clippers and the Warriors has been so much fun, dramatic, tense, filled with great storylines. It was sport at its best — taking us away, for a time, from the hard realities of life.

Sterling has become a hard reality of life and, because of what we may know about him, this playoff series has turned grim and tawdry.

The Warriors had a workout Saturday morning. Mark Jackson came out to talk and everyone asked about Sterling. Jackson chose his words carefully.

"I'm disappointed in the comments made, unfortunate," he said. "I believe there's no place in society for those feelings. It's just sad."

The questions and answers persisted on that topic. For a while, no one asked about his team or today's game. Here's some more:

Q: Would he play today if he were a Clipper?

A: "In fairness, I'm not in that position and that's their fight, that's the uniform they wear. From my standpoint, it's important for me to let it be known it's unacceptable and I'm disappointed in the statements."

Q: Should the other owners do something about Sterling?

A: "This is the real world. I'll go out on a limb and say that the statements that were made, there's other people in the world that feel that way. So let's not be na?e."

Andre Iguodala made himself available to the media. Thoughtful man.

"I'm not surprised (with Sterling's comments)," he said. "You see it every day. Everyone has something wrong with them as far as what they believe in. Hopefully, he'll have a change of heart at some point in his life."

Is Iguodala angry at Sterling?

"I would be him if I had the same hatred," Iguodala said. "I'd be a hypocrite if I felt the same way. There's no place for that in this sport or any other business. It's only going to keep us from getting to where we all want to be and for all of us to be equal."

The NBA says it is conducting an investigation. If this stuff is true, expect the league to suspend and fine Sterling. The league may even force him out quietly and behind the scenes, because he is a racist and an embarrassment.

Immediately, after his comments went public, some reporters said Clippers players would boycott today's game. That never was going to happen — the Clippers will play today.

Here is Iguodala on why the Clippers must play. "You've got to be bigger than the ignorance. Just by playing, it shows all the hard work those guys put in, the sacrifices they made to fulfill their dreams (and not) to let someone like that detour you from what you want to be."

The Clippers practiced at the USF gym on Saturday. Doc Rivers told reporters Sterling's remarks upset him and the team. He was troubled the Clippers had to spend time talking about their ridiculous owner when they could have been preparing for the Warriors. The Clippers players chose not to speak about Sterling.

Some reporters have speculated Sterling's remarks would adversely affect the Clippers' play. That assumption is absurd. I need to tell you about professional sports. Players, in general, don't like ownership. Players, in general, don't like management. If you think a team is one happy family, you live in the Garden of Eden before the Fall.

From a player's point of view, the owner is the person who screws him out of money. The owner ends his career too early. The owner doesn't care about him, treats him like a commodity. Steals his dignity.

Players feel this about all owners, not just Sterling, although now they may have additional reasons to dislike him. And don't think the players loved Sterling until now. He rarely goes into their locker room, has almost nothing to do with them. He's said to be cheap.

This anger toward Sterling actually may help the Clips play better, harder, angrier, may bring them together.

They are playing for themselves, not for the owner. It is us against them and "them" is Sterling.

Each game, the Clippers and Warriors have avoided shaking hands before the opening tip. They should shake hands today, acknowledge their solidarity against Sterling and his awful ideas, acknowledge their shared objection to racism.