Nobody should have been surprised by former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling's secretly recorded comments concerning blacks, says basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, following up on a scathing editorial he wrote last week about reactions to racism in the United States.
"It should not have been a surprise to anybody who was paying attention to Mr. Sterling over any period of time," Abdul-Jabbar told ABC "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos Sunday.
But back in 2000, when he worked as an assistant with the Clippers, Abdul-Jabbar says Sterling did not act like a racist at all.
"For the most part, he was gracious," the former NBA star said. "He invited me to his daughter's wedding. I didn't feel that there was any racial animus in the man. Just when I saw what was just portrayed there, how he discriminated against blacks and other minorities, it started to bother me."
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In his Time piece, which Stephanopoulos referred to on Sunday, Abdul-Jabbar pointed out that Sterling had been sued by the federal government for discrimination, including in 2006, when he said he did not want to rent to black tenants, complaining they "smell and attract vermin."
In addition, in 2009, Sterling paid $2.73 million in a Justice Department lawsuit, also on claims that he had discriminated against blacks, Hispanics and people with children in his rentals, and another $5 million in attorney fees because of his counsel's conduct.
The National Basketball Association last week banned Sterling from the game for life and fined him $2.5 million. Sterling, the longest-tenured owner of any of the 30 NBA teams, will not be allowed any role in the operations of his team or be able to serve as one of the league's governors, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said.
On Sunday, Abdul-Jabbar said he supports the ban, and believes Sterling will take whatever legal recourse he has to avoid sanctions and an order to sell the team.
But Abdul-Jabbar does think the NBA has the "legal leverage" to force Sterling out of the league.
"You don't know for sure, but, the way things are going now, I think that they have a good chance of keeping him away from the game," said Abdul-Jabbar.
But the country is still struggling with lingering racism, he noted.
"More whites believe in ghosts than believe in racism," he told Stephanopoulos. "That's why we have shows like 'Ghostbusters' and not shows like 'Racistbusters." It's something that is still part of our culture. And people hold on to some of these ideas and practices just out of habit and saying that, well that's the way it always was. Things have to change."
The NBA can help play a role in changing people's minds, said Abdul-Jappar.
"It's not something you can constantly be harping on," he said. "[But] when it's appropriate, they see people doing things that don't line up with how we're supposed to be feeling about things, then people have to speak up... it's like watching the temperature. Somebody gets a temperature, something might be wrong. You have to deal with it quickly."
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