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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar On Sterling: 'There's Light Now'

Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar embraces Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson during a news conference on Tuesday after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling from basketball for life.

Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says he believes the entire LA Clippers corporate organization is better off now that owner Donald Sterling has lost his standing with the NBA.

Sterling was banned for life from the NBA last week for racist remarks made on a recording released by TMZ Sports. Abdul-Jabbar says the punishment announced by NBA commissioner Adam Silver is wise and just, and has given the team confidence.

"Even people in the Clippers corporate structure are happy that Mr. Sterling can no longer dictate how the franchise is run, and there's light now at the end of the tunnel," he says in an interview with NPR's Scott Simon.

But Abdul-Jabbar also raised questions about why Sterling's conduct was tolerated for the past 30 years by his fellow owners, and about the ethics of a private recording being used against him.

"A whole lot of things have come to light, just the way he's dealt with people," says Abdul-Jabbar, a member of the basketball Hall of Fame as well as an educator, filmmaker and activist. "It's a pretty shameful record, his indifference to other people's suffering and discomfort. It's really sad.

"It's all about him making money, and of course, he's done a very good job of that," he says.

Interview Highlights

Questions about the tape's origin

We don't know everything about that. How did they get that recording? TMZ released it. Where they got it, no one has really been very clear on that. But it does seem to add to the whole, tawdry flavor of this whole incident.

On the NBA's reaction

I think the NBA did a great job in dealing with this issue. I think Commissioner [Adam] Silver was right on the money with his tone. It's going to have a great effect, and it's given people a great amount of confidence. Even people in the Clippers' corporate structure are happy that Mr. Sterling can no longer dictate how the franchise is run, and there's light now at the end of the tunnel.

On whether the NBA should find a minority owner for the Clippers

It doesn't really matter who buys the franchise, if they do manage to force a sale. I think whoever buys it will have at least an idea of how to conduct themselves publicly, and be a part of what the NBA is all about — which is about inclusion. It's supposed to be a meritocracy. We'd like to see those values supported and reflected in the faces of the owners.

On NBA players' solidarity throughout the tumult

I was really impressed by the fact that all the players understood the issue pretty quickly. David West, he plays for the Indiana Pacers, he immediately just pointed out the fact that this is just the plantation economy and the plantation mentality raising its head again. But a number of the players that protested raised their voices to say that we can't have this. It was wonderful, and got so much support from fans and people who don't even have any real interest in sports but just don't like to see bigotry expressed so blatantly and for no regard for the harm that it's doing.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff