Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento, now speaks for the players union
Clippers player Chris Paul is in an uncomfortable spotlight
Adam Silver faces his first test as NBA commissioner
Donald Sterling has made millions off the Clippers
Reaction was swift when the website TMZ released an audio recording in which a man purported to be Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers pro basketball team, made racist remarks.
The n-word wasn’t used, but the male voice on the audio recording complained that his girlfriend posted Instagram photos of herself with black men, including former pro basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson. “Don’t bring him to my games,” the male voice commanded.
Current and former players castigated Sterling. Talking heads called for the National Basketball Association to kick him out of the game.
Then another website posted another, similar audio recording. More angry words. This uproar won’t die down any time soon.
A basketball team puts five players on the floor. In that spirit, here are five of the key players in the Sterling controversy:
1. Donald Sterling
Sterling, 80, has made a fortune as a lawyer, real estate developer and entrepreneur. He’s the longest-tenured team owner in the NBA.
He acquired the Clippers in 1981 for $12.5 million, and now the team is valued at $575 million, according to Forbes magazine. The magazine says his net worth is $1.9 billion.
Sterling hasn’t commented extensively since the audio recordings were released, but a Clippers official said Sterling is “emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings.”
He doesn’t mind a battle. He has a history of fighting housing discrimination claims in court. Elgin Baylor, former general manager of the Clippers, sued for wrongful termination and said Sterling treated him “as a token because of his race.”
How will Sterling respond if the NBA investigation finds he did, in fact, make these comments? Will he fight? How far could the NBA go to punish an owner?
These questions might overshadow the on-court drama of the NBA playoffs in coming months.
2. V. Stiviano
She is the other voice on the recording, but she did not leak it to the media, Stiviano’s attorney says.
Stiviano, who according to public records is 31 years old, isn’t commenting on the controversy. On the tape, she is heard emphasizing that she is of mixed race.
She calls herself an artist, writer, chef, poet, stylist and philanthropist. Sterling’s wife calls her a mistress and a gold digger.
Rochelle Sterling filed a lawsuit last month against Stiviano, accusing her of targeting extremely wealthy older men.
3. Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is now the face and voice of the National Basketball Players Association, the union seeking swift action in the Donald Sterling controversy.
Johnson, 49, has credibility on at least two levels.
Pro basketball players respect him because he’s a former all-star in the NBA, having played 12 seasons in Cleveland and Phoenix. He’s also enjoyed political success as mayor of Sacramento, California, since 2008. He’s the city’s first African-American mayor.
Before the Sterling controversy broke, the NBPA had asked for his guidance in finding a new executive director for the group. On Saturday, the NBPA asked him to help “determine our response and our next steps” to the Sterling situation.
Johnson jumped right into the fray and listed five demands of the NBPA. Expect to hear more from him.
4. Chris Paul
One of the world’s best basketball players finds himself in the middle of the firestorm.
Chris Paul serves as president of the NBPA. He also happens to play for the Los Angeles Clippers, the team owned by Sterling.
Paul, 28, has been circumspect in his public comments, issuing a three-sentence statement on the NBPA website. But he did quickly ask Johnson to become involved.
It would be difficult to play basketball at a time like this, but that’s exactly what Paul must do. The Clippers looked out of it on Sunday in losing to the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs.
Even if you don’t follow basketball, you may know Paul from his Allstate insurance advertisements, in which he plays twins, one athletic and one nerdy.
5. Adam Silver
This could be a make-or-break moment for the NBA’s new top dog.
Silver, 52, has been the NBA commissioner for less than three months, and already he’s having to deal with a problem that could shake the league to its foundations.
He immediately called for an investigation into Sterling’s alleged remarks and reminded the world that due process must be followed.
But various forces, from Al Sharpton to the NBPA, are telling him to speed it up. The real challenge could come down the road. If the investigation finds that Sterling really said these things and he resists league discipline, the NBA’s public relations problem would only deepen.
A lawyer, Silver took over from David Stern, who served for three decades and oversaw tremendous growth in the sport. Silver has worked for the NBA since 1992 in various leadership jobs.
CNN’s Josh Levs contributed to this report.