Los Angeles Clippers’ sponsors are pulling out after an alleged recording of owner Donald Sterling in a racist rant went public, and the team’s highly-respected coach hinted he may head for the door once the season ends.
The controversy comes as the team is enjoying its best season ever, winning 57 games in the regular season and currently tied up in the first round of the playoffs. But the firestorm over an alleged lecture the 81-year-old billionaire gave his 31-year-old girlfriend for associating with African-Americans has cast a pall over the team. On Monday, used car giant CarMax ended its relationship with the team after nine years.
“CarMax finds the statements attributed to the Clippers' owner completely unacceptable,” company spokeswoman Catherine Gryp said. “These views directly conflict with CarMax's culture of respect for all individuals.”
Also on Monday, insurance giant State Farm told CNBC that it would "pause" its relationship with the Clippers and Virgin America bailed on the team.
"While we continue to support the fans and the players, Virgin America has made the decision to end its sponsorship of the L.A. Clippers," it said in a statement.
Perhaps more troublesome was coach Doc Rivers’ comments on Sunday, after the tape had surfaced and before Clippers players took the court with their warm-ups inside-out to hide the Clippers logo. Rivers, in his first year as the Clippers’ coach, led the Boston Celtics to an NBA championship in 2008.
"Don't know yet,” Rivers said when asked what could convince him to want to keep his job. “I'm just going to leave it at that."
And any hopes that the situation might spur the players to rally was squelched when they were blown out by the Golden State Warriors, 118-97 to even the best-of-seven series at two games apiece. They meet Tuesday night, back on the Clippers’ home court. The loss disheartened fans, who were hoping the team would fight through the controversy.
He may own the team but they belong to us. Go Clippers!— Billy Crystal (@BillyCrystal) April 27, 2014
Steve Stoute, whose marketing firm Translation, represents State Farm, told ESPN Monday he expects to see a mass exodus of advertisers.
Sterling’s former girlfriend, who goes by the name V. Stiviano and previously ran a charity for the billionaire attorney and real estate magnate, allegedly made the recordings, which were leaked on the Internet. In them, a voice said to be Sterling’s tells her he doesn’t mind if she sleeps with African-American men, but that he doesn’t want her to be seen in public or at Clippers’ games with them.
Stiviano is being sued by Sterling’s wife Rochelle Sterling who claims she embezzled more than $1.8 million from the couple. In the suit, Sterling's wife, alleges that her husband showered Stiviano with gifts such as a $1.8 million duplex in downtown L.A., a 2012 Ferrari, two Bentleys and a 2013 Range Rover, worth a total of more than $500,000.
The gifts came from community property, according to Sterling's wife, and since they were purchased without her consent, the suit demands their return as well as compensatory damages.