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NBA's Adam Silver to Give Press Conference on Sterling; Closer Look at Donald Sterling; Clippers Players in Tough Spot; What Can NBA Do About Sterling Legally?

Aired April 29, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington.

We're less than 30 minutes away from the NBA news conference scheduled for the top of the hour. The NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, expected to update the investigation into the racist comments allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling. It's also possible the commissioner could announce additional items. We'll have live coverage coming up at the top of the hour for our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

Joining us to talk about the Sterling scandal and what the NBA may be doing about it, once again, Rachel Nichols is joining us, the host of CNN's "Unguarded"; and Thurl Bailey, a former NBA player, currently a sportscaster for the NBA's Utah Jazz.

Guys, thanks very much, once again.

Thurl, what would be an appropriate punishment for Donald Sterling?

THURL BAILEY, NBA'S UTAH JAZZ SPORTSCASTER & FORMER NBA PLAYER: You know, I'm not sure I know the definition of appropriate. I think we all have our personal opinions. I think he obviously should be disassociated with the Clippers, with the NBA itself. But there is a process. There is an order. Obviously, we're going to hear from Adam Silver here pretty soon. But, you know, I think, as far as public opinion goes, a fine's not really going to do anything. But a heavy suspension or banishment from the NBA and this ownership, whether that's legal or not, is probably in the right direction.

BLITZER: What sort of surprises me, Rachel, is what he hasn't done since the scandal erupted over the past few days. You would think if, in fact, those were his words on that audiotape, he would have gone public, he would have apologized, he would have said this was obviously a bad, evil, awkward, terrible -- whatever words he wanted to use, he says he's going to try to fix it, he's going to spend the rest of his life working to improve race relations. He's got a lot of money. He's going to make money available for very appropriate causes. I didn't hear anything along those lines. Are you surprised we didn't hear that kind of attempt at damage control?

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT & HOST, UNGUARDED: No, I'm not, frankly, because I don't think Sterling feels that way and he's shown that time and time again over the years. Anyone who woke up this past weekend and said, oh, my gosh, we've just learned that Donald Sterling has racial thoughts or tendencies hasn't been paying attention. He faced two separate federal lawsuits from the U.S. Justice Department over housing discrimination. He was discriminating against blacks and Hispanics and, instead of fighting those lawsuits, he settled for what was, then, record amounts of money. He was sued by Elgin Baylor, one of the greatest players to play in the NBA, who later worked for him in management. Baylor sued him for racial discrimination. There have been terrible deeds alleged to Sterling, including in one of his -- in relation to one of his housing lawsuits. A quote attributed to him was that he said, quote, "Black people smell and attract vermin." This is the guy we're dealing with. This is a guy who has been an owner in the NBA for a long time. I'm not surprised at all to hear these comments. I'm not surprised at all he didn't issue some sort of mea culpa. We haven't heard that from him all along the way.

BLITZER: Obviously, should have been doing that. Clearly, you're right. He has stayed away from doing that. That's maybe the nature of Donald Sterling.

What also worried me, Thurl, you know, I'm a great NBA fan. I love my Washington Wizards. I love the NBA. How is this impacting on the current roster of players in the NBA, especially from the Clippers? Take us inside. What do you think?

NICHOLS: Well, it's certainly devastating for them.


BLITZER: Let me ask Thurl.

Go ahead, Thurl.

BAILEY: Nobody wants to work for a bigot. Nobody wants to work for a racist. It's not unlike corporate America. I think the difference is, you have a group of guys, you have a team of guys who are obviously in solidarity on the protests, and they're waiting to see what the commissioner does. But if I'm a player, there's no way I would want to work in those conditions for that man. And the problem is that you're doing something you have a passion for, something you love to do. You are in a position to win an NBA championship and now this comes about which takes a lot of wind out of your sails, takes a lot of faith in what you've worked so hard for. You know, as a player, you want to play. You want to play. But you don't want to be under those conditions.

BLITZER: Yeah, all right, guys, I want you to stand by.

Because we're building up towards this news conference. We're anxious to hear what Adam Silver is about to announce. We'll have much more on this developing story. Once again, the news conference scheduled to be at the top of the hour.

And just coming up here, more on what started the scandal. A closer look at Donald Sterling's controversial past. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Right at the top of the hour, we're standing by for an important news conference, the new commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, getting ready to walk into that room. That's the New York Hilton Hotel, Midtown Manhattan. He will make a statement and presumably answer reporter's questions. We'll have live coverage for our viewers in the United States and around the world. A huge interest not only in the United States but around the world as far as the NBA is concerned.

In the meantime, Jason Carroll takes a closer look at Donald Sterling, the man at the center of the scandal, and his very checkered past.



V. STIVIANO, FORMER GIRLFRIEND OF DONALD STERLING: Because I don't see your views. I was not raised the way you were raised.

DONALD STERLING, OWNER, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: Don't come to my games. Don't bring black people. Don't come.

STIVIANO: Do you know you have a whole team that's black that plays for you?

STERLING: Do I know? I support them and give them food and clothes and cars and houses. Who gives it to them?


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's allegedly Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling telling his then mistress to remove black people from her Instagram account, including magic Johnson.


STERLING: During your entire (EXPLETIVE DELETED) life, your whole life, admire him, bring him here, feed him, (EXPLETIVE DELETED) him, I don't care. You can do anything, but don't put him on Instagram so the world has to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games, OK.


CARROLL: Sterling's wife told TMZ her husband is not a racist, saying it's not true. Also saying the tape recordings were, quote, old.

GREG ANTHONY, FORMER NBA PLAYER: He's long been thought to be somewhat of a bigot. But the issue now is the fact that everybody around the country knows.

CARROLL: Sterling, the son of Jewish immigrants, started his career in the early '60s as an attorney before transitioning to real estate, developing a track record of legal problems involving discrimination.

In 2009, Clippers former general manager, Elgin Baylor, filed a wrongful termination suit against Sterling for what he called Sterling's pervasive and ongoing racist attitude. Alleging Sterling wanted the Clippers to be poor black boys from the south and a white head coach. Sterling denied the allegations and Baylor dropped the racial discrimination suit.

Also in 2009, Sterling paid what was, at the time, the largest housing discrimination settlement in U.S. history. The Justice Department sued Sterling for allegedly refusing to rent apartments to African- Americans and Latinos. Again, Sterling denied the allegations, settling by paying nearly $3 million.

(on camera): In 2009, the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP actually awarded Sterling with a Lifetime Achievement Award. They were about to do the same thing this year, but rescinded it once those recordings surfaced.

(voice-over): The NAACP did not say how much money they received from Sterling, only that it will be returned. The decision to honor him made at the local level.

LORRAINE MILLER, CHAPTER PRESIDENT, NAACP: We have to urge our branches to make much more considered decisions.

CARROLL: No word from Sterling. But he may not be able to stay quiet for much longer.

Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Donald Sterling has owned the Clippers for 33 years. He's always been a regular at the top of the worst owners list.

Once again, joining us, Rachel Nichols, the host of CNN's "Unguarded," and Thurl Bailey, former NBA, announcer for the NBA's Utah Jazz.

Thurl, did you ever meet Sterling in your career in the NBA?

BAILEY: No, I did not. I did not have any personal contact with him.

BLITZER: What kind of reputation did he have amongst you and your colleagues?

BAILEY: Well, you know, I didn't know him that well. As a player, you know, you really are only familiar with the owner of your team. You don't have much association with other owners. I didn't hear, even as a board member of the NBA Retired Players Association, that conversation never really came up. But, you know, when you look at that clip, and historically what he's done and what he said, it really brings to mind the question: What is the criteria for ownership in the NBA? Is there enough due diligence going on? Because if you look back, you would question and say this man, even though he has the money, does he deserve an NBA franchise? BLITZER: The pressure on Adam Silver and the other owners right now, Rachel, is enormous. Give us your perspective.

NICHOLS: Yeah, there's immense pressure on Adam Silver. First, remember, he's less than three months into his term as commissioner. This is going to set the tone for what kind of commissioner he's going to be, both to the outside public and sponsors and fans of the NBA, and internally to the players and coaches and the people within the ranks. There's also pressure on him from the owners. Owners around the league realize they have to do something about Donald Sterling, something they didn't do other the past 10, 15, 20 years. However, Mark Cuban made an interesting comment yesterday. He talked about, quote, "the slippery slope that he's concerned about.: He is concerned that if the owners give Silver too much power, Silver could turn around and maybe try to rescind one of their franchises. And Cuban is one of the more progressive owners in the NBA. If he feels that way, you only have to imagine how some of the most conservative owners feel. So there's a real push and pull here.

Adam Silver also, remember, is a lawyer, a very good lawyer. So he's aware of the legal ramifications. He knows that Donald Sterling is a lawyer and has spent much of his adult life in court. So many different factors going on here. A lot of pressure, most of it public, to get something significant done.

BLITZER: Yeah. You've got to give Silver credit. He's making a quick decision on this. We'll hear it right at the top of the hour.

Guys, thanks very much. Don't go too far away.

Up next, beyond the business of basketball, the Clippers players are in a very tough spot. But what is their responsibility? What's going on in the country right now? I'm going to speak to the Urban League president, Marc Morial. We'll discuss what the NBA needs to do with Donald Sterling.


BLITZER: We're about 10 minutes away from the top of the hour, and the NBA news conference announcing the next step in the Donald Sterling scandal. That's basketball and business, but there's a lot more involved as well.

Let's bring back Rachel Nichols. She's still with us. I also want to bring in the National Urban League president, Marc Morial.

And let's talk about the implications right now.

Marc, what do you think? If you had your way, what would Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, announce in a few minutes?

MARC MORIAL, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: I think he would take a first step, and that first step would be to ban Donald Sterling from the National Basketball Association. My hope is that it is a ban for life, or if not for life, for a very long time. I also think that what Commissioner Silver's going to have to do is make a strong statement about what the National Basketball Association stands for. This is important to its players, to its fans, to its sponsors, to the public at large, because the National Basketball Association represents more than a sports league. It represents an important institution in American life. It represents a league where African-American participation has been essential to the league, for more than 50 years. It represents a place where you now have African- American coaches in front-office personnel, not at the levels we would expect.

Adam Silver's got to make a strong statement, but he's also got to take strong action. He's got to do it quickly and be decisive. I think what he says today -- I expect it to be more of a first step, not all of the action that the NBA will need to take to correct this injustice.

BLITZER: As you know, Marc, we're a nation, we forgive people. If he came to you -- and I'm sure he won't -- but let's say he did, Donald Sterling, and said, Mr. Morial, what can I do to fix this? What would you tell him?

MORIAL: Well, there's always -- we should always accept forgiveness. We should always accept the fact that a person would admit that they've been wrong. In Donald Sterling's case, I think the challenge is this seems to be a very long record. If this were an isolated incident, if this is the first time he was associated with these sorts of statements, people might see it a bit differently. I think because of the long record, people may be looking for, I think, a more stern level of discipline.

But I would also say this. I would separate how I would accept his forgiveness from his role in the NBA going forward. Already he's diminished the value of his own team. Imagine if sponsors, imagine if players will not want to play for him. He's diminished the value of his own asset from strictly a business standpoint. And what the other owners have to be concerned about is that his actions are diminishing the value by diminishing the reputation of the league, which is why decisive action by the commissioner is important.

BLITZER: And one thing, Rachel, that the commissioner has to worry about, this is a guy who likes to get involved in legal battles, lawsuits, if you will, and presumably if you know Donald Sterling, he's going to fight this legally in court, and that could drag on and on and on.

NICHOLS: Well, that's the danger of them going too far. They need to go right up to the point where they can basically quell the public outrage, the legitimate outrage, the players and everybody involved in this situation, but not go so far that it wouldn't stand up in a court of law. You've seen Adam Silver, thus far, use careful language when addressing this situation. They wanted to authenticate the authenticity of the tape before they meted out any punishment.

One of the things that interests me in the wake of this whole situation is, hey, we know that Donald Sterling has been an issue for a long time. The NBA is definitely getting criticism now of, why didn't you deal with this before. How come today at this press conference is the first time we're seeing real justice meted out? You want to know how many other owners in other sports are going to be under the microscope now, and whether this will cause any more significant change.

BLITZER: Guys, stand by. I want you to be with us.

We're only moments away from the top of the hour, the news conference about to begin. What can the NBA legally do to Donald Sterling? Our panelists are standing by. We've get legal options from Jeffrey Toobin as well. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: We're standing by for the start of the NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's news conference only minutes away from now. The commissioner expected to address the Donald Sterling scandal. He's expected also to announce some disciplinary actions in the case.

Rachel Nichols is still with us. She's there at the news conference. Utah Jazz announcer, Thurl Bailey, is back with us as well. And also Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst.

Quickly, Jeffrey, what legally can the commissioner do?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: He can pretty much do anything he wants, short of making Sterling sell the team. He can fine him, he can suspend him. Selling the team is something all the commissioners -- all the owners can do together. But Adam Silver can't do it by himself. But he has a lot of leeway to decide what to do today.

BLITZER: How significant is this moment, Thurl? Give me some perspective, NBA history right now, not just NBA, but sports history in America.

BAILEY: Well, if you go back in time, obviously, you know, you look at the history, and the trailblazing that a lot of our retired players have blazed that trail, some who aren't with us anymore, but some who still tell those stories, you know that sports has come a long way. Obviously, this takes us a step back. But awareness is always good. But I think historically, as you look at the game, and how global it's become, and how diverse it is, with European players, players from a lot of different countries playing in the NBA, it is really the epitome of diversity. And, you know, with the high percentage of players being African-American, and to hear the statements from Don Sterling, obviously it sets us back a while. But this decision coming up in a few minutes is going to be historic. And I know that Commissioner Silver knows that. This is kind of his first at-bat. We're all hoping that he hits it out of the park. And has a swift and hard punishment.

BLITZER: He knows it as well.

But Jeffrey, legally speaking, this is the owner of the Clippers. He's someone who's not shy about getting involved in legal battles. And the NBA has to worry about that.

TOOBIN: That's true. This is, remember, a very paradoxical legal setup. Here you have the commissioner, who doesn't have employees. The owners are effectively his bosses, so he has to discipline one of his bosses. Now, there's plenty of precedent for that, and David Stern, his predecessor, on occasion, took action against owners. But it's an unusual situation, where he's not dealing with an employee. He's dealing with someone who is, you know, who is one of the people who can hire and fire the commissioner.

Now, there are bylaws that give him power. But all the owners are going to be watching this. And you can be sure, they're all thinking, well, you know, I want to see Adam Silver dispense an appropriate punishment here, but I don't want the commissioner to be too powerful, especially if I might be in the dock some day.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, I want you to stand by.

Thurl Bailey, please stand by as well.

We're only moments away from the news conference. The new NBA commissioner, remember, he only became the commissioner around February 1st, so he's new to the job. He's about to make a major, major statement. We're told he will then answer questions. We're going to have live coverage here on CNN. Viewers in the United States and around the world will be watching. We have our CNN reporters standing by, a panel of experts.

Let's hand over our coverage right now to my colleague, and good friend, Brooke Baldwin -- Brooke?

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Wolf, thank you so much.

Great to be with all of you. I'm Brooke Baldwin.