The Sterling Affairs Episode 1

A domestic battle boils over and sends the NBA into crisis when secretly recorded tapes of Donald Sterling and his mistress V. Stiviano leak on TMZ.

35 mins

Transcript

STERLING_EPISODE 1_TRANSCRIPT FOR WEBSITE

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Shelly Sterling thought she was just going to return some clothes to Neiman Marcus when she got in her Mercedes Benz station wagon and made the drive from Malibu to Beverly Hills. It was early in the spring of 2014 and even though Shelly was almost 80 years old, she was still going “into town” as rich people call Beverly Hills, 4 or 5 days a week. It’s hard to guess Shelly’s age if you don’t know it, because she keeps her hair a convincing pale blonde. And her face is very well-maintained. And she’s almost always dressed in Chanel. 

 

Driving into Beverly Hills is basically like entering a state park for the rich-and-famous. There are the iconic brown and yellow signs that let you know you have entered a special place. And Shelly Sterling and her husband Donald owned a ton of it. Over their 60-year marriage, the Sterlings built a real estate empire — in their heyday, they were the largest residential landlords in LA County. 

 

But most people knew her husband Donald Sterling as the long-time owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, one of the worst owners in all of sports. His team was the laughingstock of the NBA for decades.

 

For Shelly, it should have been, would have been just a jaunt down Rodeo Drive to return some wildly expensive clothes. But…

 

Unbeknownst to Shelly, her husband was also at Neiman Marcus that day with a woman 49 years his junior named V Stiviano. She wasn’t the first mistress, not even close. But V was something different. 

 

Shelly told me that story when we met in the winter of 2019 at the Beverly Hills Plaza Hotel or “my hotel,” as she calls it. Shelly was 84 at the time, but she can tell that story of that run-in with Donald and V five years earlier with exacting detail.

 

SHELLY STERLING: I happened to be there to return something, and she was there

with Donald, and with some other friends. And we had a big confrontation. She was very, very, very nasty and mean to me. 

MAC NEHORAY: What happened was that she ran into Shelly, I think at Nordstrom. And they started talking and I guess things got out of hand.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: That’s V Stiviano’s lawyer Mac Nehoray. And when I told Shelly Sterling his version of the story, she scoffed. 

SHELLY STERLING: It was Neiman Marcus.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: At first I thought it was funny that Shelly took the time to correct him. I mean, here is a woman talking to a female reporter about her husband’s infidelity. Who cares whether you confront your husband’s mistress outside of Neiman Marcus or Nordys?  

But the details matter here. It is important to get it right. Because that meeting outside Neiman Marcus — that petty squabble between a wife and her husband’s mistress — set off a chain of events. That in the end, led to one of the biggest scandals in professional sports. A controversy that forced the NBA to finally deal with Donald Sterling after decades of his bad behavior, and had ripple effects throughout the entire league.  

This is the Sterling Affairs, from 30 for 30 Podcasts and The Undefeated. I’m Ramona Shelburne.

I’ve covered basketball in LA for a long time. The NBA is a league of huge personalities and even bigger egos fighting for power — and if you want the real score, that’s the game you have to follow.

I learned pretty quickly that there’s no other owner in basketball with quite the personality, or ego, of Donald Sterling. 

Sterling wasn’t a basketball guy, he was a personal injury lawyer, and then he got filthy rich off of real estate. That’s what he was really good at. I could never understand why he even kept the Clippers, when his reputation as an owner was so bad. 

It must have been miserable for him. The only attention he ever drew was as one of the worst owners in all of sports. The perennial loser.

But that’s because I always assumed that deep down he wanted what everyone in the game is supposed to want: to win. 

But rich people, like Donald Sterling multi billion dollar rich people, don’t live in the same world as the rest of us. Don’t play by the same rules. When you have enough money, it’s like you’re rubber, everything just bounces off of you. Even three decades of driving an NBA franchise into the ground. When you’re as rich as Donald and Shelly, you get to tell yourself that everything is fabulous.

 

[KNBC

Donald Sterling: I feel fabulous! 

[TMZ
Donald: they’re fabulous. Fabulous!]

SHELLY STERLING: he was just fabulous

RAMONA SHELBURNE: I was born and raised in LA and I’ve never heard anyone use the word fabulous as much as these two do.

SHELLY STERLING: They were fabulous

SHELLY STERLING:… It was just fabulous

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Even their court battles:

 

[CNN

Shelly Sterling: I want to thank everybody who has helped me. My attorneys they were fabulous.]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: And of course anything related to their team:

 

[YOUTUBE

DONALD STERLING: the U.S. team that won at all the fabulous AMERICAN TEAM. WE ARE FABULOUS. LET’S GIVE A HAND TO AMERICA. USA!] 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: And Donald Sterling’s life was fabulous. Why would he think otherwise? Nobody ever questioned him — to his face, anyway. He did whatever he wanted. He said whatever he wanted. He had relationships with whomever he wanted.

I didn’t know V Stiviano back then. And, yes, that’s her real name: V, just the letter V with a period. She was born Maria Vanessa Perez but changed her name to V. Stiviano, at about the same time she’d met Donald at a Super Bowl party in 2010. Before that, V had been trying desperately to climb out of the poverty that she’d grown up in. She’d been running a food truck business and trying to work her way onto reality TV shows — and cozying up to whomever was the most relevant, powerful or famous.

Then she met Donald. 

There’s an unwritten contract between young women and their very-rich but much older sugar-daddies that helps each side pretend it’s about love and not sex-for-money.  Never talk about age. Pretend looks don’t matter. Money and Hermes bags are gifts. And never, ever humiliate the wife.

But V Stiviano either didn’t know or didn’t care, because she broke every last rule in the mistress terms and agreements. She went right at Shelly.

SHELLY STERLING: She said to the people in the office, “I’m going to own the office one day.” And she said to the Clipper people, she says “This is going to be my team one day.” I mean just bold, really bold. And, it all got back to me, you know.

KATHRINE BAUMANN:  She kept telling people she was going to be the next Mrs. Sterling

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Kathrine Baumann is one of Shelly’s best friends — and a longtime Clippers fan. 

 

KATHRINE BAUMANN: She would stalk Shelly… she would watch where Shelly would go, and then she’d show up. And I do remember the one time she went into the restroom where Shelly was, just paraded around. Showed off herself, then Shelly walked out.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: At Clippers games, the entire extended Sterling universe was usually there and usually just feet from one another. 

 

Sometimes, Shelly and Donald sat in their courtside seats together. And V sat in her seats directly across the court. Other nights, V would sit next to Donald, and Shelly was nowhere to be seen. Clippers players like Ryan Hollins and Matt Barnes got used to V being around. You couldn’t NOT notice her.

 

RYAN HOLLINS: she would just parade around the arena and it was so awkward like we kind of know what’s going on but you’re doing it in front of our faces as if we were silly….so it was an odd, odd situation.

 

MATT BARNES: nobody liked her. we knew why she was here and we all thought it was crazy to begin with but you know it wasn’t our place to speak on it at the time.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Clippers employees often got caught in the middle of the bizarre triangle. Shelly would call team president Andy Roeser demanding that V not be allowed in the building. Then Donald would call Roeser and ask him to leave four tickets for her. 

These were relationships begging to implode. But none of the entangled ever tried to solve the problem. Donald. Shelly. V. … each kept pushing each other, waiting for someone to break. 

Well. The breaking started on Christmas Day, 2012. V called the Sterling house asking to speak to Donald.

SHELLY STERLING: we were all sitting down Christmas day having dinner, and she called. 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Shelly was mortified. The family was sitting at the dinner table waiting for Donald as he’s pacing on the tennis courts outside, fighting with his mistress. 

SHELLY STERLING: I don’t know, they had some argument… And um, the family heard about it you know and it just… It wasn’t a good scene.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: The fight with Shelly started when he hung up. Not that that was uncommon. Even without V, they fought often. 

But this was escalating. Shelly and Donald’s youngest son, Scott had to step in before it got physical. He confronted his father and demanded he stop this nonsense with V. And stopped disrespecting his mother like this. 

It was a big moment, but nothing came of it.

A week later, Scott died. It was first reported to be a pulmonary embolism but later revealed to be an overdose. He was 32 years old.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: And I don’t think people realize this, but you lost a child … 

SHELLY STERLING: I know 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Right around then … 

SHELLY STERLING:  January 1st

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Shelly was devastated.

SHELLY STERLING: I was going through the motions of living.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: It wasn’t just that the fight with V was a last, volatile moment between Donald and Scott. When Scott died, Donald stayed with V… instead of going home to his wife as she grieved. 

 

It was too much. 

 

She kicked Don out of the house.

 

KATHRINE BAUMANN: Shelly needed breathing room and I think Don had pushed the envelope a little too far.

 

SHELLY STERLING: I really thought that we probably were going to be getting a divorce

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: But Shelly and Donald had been together too long, been through too much together. Had too much of their lives and their money intertwined. They did not divorce. The situation simply continued to deteriorate over the next year as Donald spent more and more time with V.

 

Plus, Shelly was starting to learn about the gifts. V posted pictures on Instagram—V driving the $240,000 red Ferrari that Donald had bought her. And the Range Rover. And the two Bentleys. Shelly also found out Donald had bought V a $1.8 million dollar duplex…

SHELLY STERLING: When I found out that he had paid for all the cars, and he paid for this house I was furious.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: It was that anger Shelly brought to Neiman Marcus with her returns on the fateful day she that she encountered Donald and V. 

It wasn’t the first time the two women had run into each other. Or argued. But this time, Shelly decided she’d had enough.

SHELLY STERLING: And that’s when I decided I was going to sue her.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: On March 7, 2014, Shelly Sterling filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court against V Stiviano seeking the return of all those gifts from Donald.

Donald and Shelly Sterling were worth multiple billions of dollars and had done what the ultra rich do: put all their money and property into a joint trust. Every dime the Sterlings spent cost each of a them a nickel. Therefore, Shelly argued, the money that Donald used to pay for the gifts was just as much hers as it was his.

So she turned to the courts.

If that sounds a little extreme, well, you don’t know the Sterlings. Calling a lawyer is how they get out of bed in the morning. To say they’re litigious is like saying there’s traffic on the 405.

And besides, suing to get what they want had proven incredibly effective for the Sterlings over the years. Most people didn’t have the means or the stomach to battle them in court. They’d settle before they starved.

 

SHELLY STERLING: She kept saying to Donald, “You better have her drop the lawsuit.” And he’d say, “Oh, she won’t really go through with it, but she’s doing it for effect.” And she says, “Well, she better drop the lawsuit.”

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: But here’s how the lawsuit — the courtroom product of a bedroom dispute — really came to change everything.

 

For some time now, V had been recording her conversations with Donald. 

 

[TMZ
V. STIVIANO: Sweetie, I’m sorry.
DONALD STERLING: I’m so sorry, too. We made a giant mistake, both of us.]

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: And according to V and her lawyer, Donald was aware she was making the tapes.

 

MAC NEHORAY: So she told him I’m going to start taping you to remind you what you told me and how you told me.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: He’d been forgetting things he said to her, and the tapes were a way of reminding him.

 

MAC NEHORAY:  She was taping him everywhere.

[TMZ
Donald Sterling: Please leave me alone, please, please!]

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: She’d recorded hundreds of conversations, over the past two years. A lot of the recordings were mundane, boring, even. But some of the recordings were arguments, and captured a side of Donald that he would never want his wife or anyone else to hear. 

 

[TMZ
Donald Sterling: I guess that you don’t know that, maybe you’re stupid!]

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: No matter what the original intent of those tapes was…they became something V could use. As blackmail…because V. Stiviano had no intention of returning those gifts from Donald.

 

SHELLY STERLING: she wanted me to drop the lawsuit.

 

PIERCE O’DONNELL: V says to Donald. I want that bitch wife of yours lawsuit dismissed. 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Pierce O’Donnell is Shelly Sterling’s lawyer

 

PIERCE O’DONNELL:  And he tried to get Shelly to dismiss it and she wouldn’t do it.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: If Donald couldn’t or wouldn’t fix the situation. V decided she would take matters into her own hands. It was time to use the tapes. To reveal Donald Sterling for who he really was. 

 

[AD BREAK]


RAMONA SHELBURNE: On April 9, 2014, a Clippers executive assistant texted V on behalf of Donald. The text was to make sure V understood that she wasn’t welcome at the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder later that evening — that her tickets, her VIP pass, and her parking had been revoked.

 

V responded with a series of escalating texts, saying she was going to the game anyway, and then some veiled threats.

 

“I would hate for Staple Center to get involved in what’s going on.” 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Three hours later, she got a response

 

“Mr. Sterling said to let me know if you need anything. We don’t want to have any issues at the game.”

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: V had her opening. 

 

“No. You tell Mr. Sterling that I don’t need anything nor do I want anything … But thanks for asking … LET THE GAMES BEGAN …”

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Attached to the text was an audio file. And when the Clippers employee opened the file, she heard this: 

 

[TMZ 

DONALD STERLING: In your lousy f*** instagram, you don’t have to have yourself walking with black people…
V. STIVIANO: and it bothers you?
DONALD STERLING: yeah it bothers me a lot that you want to promote, broadcast that you’re associating with black people, do you have to?
V. STIVIANO: You associate with black people!
DONALD STERLING: I’m not you and you’re not me. You’re supposed to be a delicate white or delicate Latina girl
V. STIVIANO: I’m a mixed girl]


RAMONA SHELBURNE: It was shocking. The Clippers assistant immediately emailed the file to Clippers President Andy Roeser. And that’s how Shelly learned about the tape too.

 

SHELLY STERLING: I didn’t even know that the tape was sent to the Clippers, until somebody at a game told me that they said they received a tape from her, and I said, “Well, what is the tape about?” So, I said to Andy-… Andy Roeser, I said, “Andy, what are you doing about this?” He says, “Well, she’ll never do anything”.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Roeser had worked for Donald Sterling for nearly three decades… he did what everybody learns to do after a while—stay out of the really ugly stuff. Donald and Shelly had cleaned up their own messes for six decades…he figured they’d eventually make this one go away, too. 

 

But they didn’t. Shelly told her lawyers about the tape, and they in turn went to V’s lawyer and demanded to hear them.

 

And that’s when V Stiviano made her big move.

 

MIKE WALTERS: I got a call by a trusted confidential source who said, “You have to hear this.” 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Mike Walters was the News Director at TMZ at the time. Now he runs his own celebrity news site, The Blast.

 

MIKE WALTERS: the first thing I did was say, “Who’s Donald Sterling?” I had heard the name, I knew that Donald Sterling was important, but I had no idea that he owned the Clippers.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Even for someone from TMZ, whose job was breaking the internet with the juiciest, most controversial stories. This felt like something different.

 

MIKE WALTERS: I received the audio and said, “Oh my god.” 

 

[TMZ
DONALD STERLING: Why are you taking pictures with minorities, why?
V. STIVIANO: What’s wrong with minorities? What’s wrong with black people?]
DONALD STERLING: Nothing. How about your whole life, every day, you could do whatever you want? You could sleep with them, you could bring them in, you could do whatever you want! The little I ask you is not to promote it on, and not to bring them to my games.]

 

MIKE WALTERS: It was the most repulsive, disgusting, unbelievable audio or moment that I’d ever heard in my lifetime come out of somebody’s mouth that then, once I realized who they were, how much impact that may have.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: But no one in Clippers world seemed to realize. The fact is… Shelly and several people in the Clippers organization heard the recording and decided not to act on it. Or weren’t appalled enough to act on it. Maybe they didn’t understand how big a splash this tape could make. 

 

MIKE WALTERS: I think this deals with very touchy subjects like racism, sexism, things that touch everyone in this country. So I knew, with all of that combined, with the fact that it actually was on tape and, if I could do my job properly, everyone was gonna hear it, that this would be a gigantic thing.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: So Mike Walters called up the NBA. Their new commissioner, Adam Silver, had barely been in office for 3 months.

 

MIKE WALTERS:I actually had never heard of Adam Silver until that day.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Turns out not even TMZ was going to release something like this without some due diligence.

 

MIKE WALTERS: there is a balance between privacy of people, and the public’s interest in what is said in this audio. And I think everyone will agree with me when I say this, this had to be heard, period.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: After calling the league, TMZ called the Clippers to let them know they were about to publish a tape that would be very damaging to Donald Sterling.

 

If you’re Donald Sterling, there’s never a good time to have your girlfriend out you as a racist. If you’re the Clippers, this could not have happened at a worse moment…

 

Donald Sterling’s Clippers had been a laughing stock for decades. 

 

[JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!

JIMMY KIMMEL: Because honestly, these Clippers jokes, they’re not even jokes…they’re statements of fact.] 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: In the thirty some odd years he had owned the team, they’d only made the playoffs six times. They’d never moved past the semifinals. 

 

That had all started to change in the late 2000s. The team had drafted a star, Blake Griffin. 

 

[LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O’BRIEN

CONAN O’BRIEN: NBA rookie of the year: Blake Griffin!]

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: and then ended up with another star, Chris Paul. 

 

[SPORTS CENTER

NEIL EVERETT: Los Angeles is electric with the addition of Chris Paul to the Clippers]

 

[JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!

JIMMY KIMMEL: Had you heard of the Clippers before this? 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: after a trade saga that rocked the NBA somehow ended up in favor of the perennial loser Clippers over the NBA’s golden child — the Los Angeles Lakers.

 

[SPORTS CENTER

COLLEEN DOMINGUEZ: The buzz in Los Angeles has instantly shifted to the Clippers.]

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: In time for this season, the Clippers had also somehow managed to get themselves one of the best coaches in the NBA: Doc Rivers. 

 

[SPORTS CENTER

JACKIE MACMULLAN: It’s Doc Rivers to the Clippers, three years, $21 million dollars]

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: There was a hope of stability, balance… even winning. 

 

2012 saw one playoff run, 2013 saw another. And 2014 was going to be the year where they might finally contend for a championship.

 

[SPORTS CENTER

CHRIS PAUL: I’m excited to bring a championship here to LA in a Clippers uniform]

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: But now, the “Clipper curse” was about to rear its head yet again.

 

[JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!

JIMMY KIMMEL: The one thing I can always rely on is that the Clippers screw things up.]

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Once the Clippers staff found out TMZ was going to publish the tape, Andy Roeser went to coach Doc Rivers. He needed him to talk to his players before the story broke. 

 

DOC RIVERS: Andy, I remember coming into my office one day and said, “Hey, there’s a tape that TMZ has. This is going to come out. It’s not that flattering, but it’s not a big 

deal.” Honestly, I thought it was a sex tape… because Donald Sterling, I really did.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: So Doc did as he was told, he gathered the players and warned them that something was coming.

 

Superstar Clippers forward Blake Griffin and center Ryan Hollins were in that room.

BLAKE GRIFFIN: Doc gathered us 

 

RYAN HOLLINS: Doc said hey guys we need to meet and talk 

 

BLAKE GRIFFIN: this is about to come out.

 

RYAN HOLLINS: We don’t know what the heck this is going to turn into.

 

BLAKE GRIFFIN: People are going to run with this… none of us realized the extent because we didn’t hear the recording or whatever it was.

 

RYAN HOLLINS: He tells us to kind of prepare yourself because we’re playing Golden State and the focus at hand is win the game.

BLAKE GRIFFIN: So I think we were all kind of like, “All right, well this is another thing. We’ll get ready for this game.” 

 

[SPORTS CENTER

BRAM WEINSTEIN: Alright, welcome back to Sports Center where we have some breaking news a disturbing story including the owner of one of the NBA playoff teams] 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: TMZ dropped this story at 10pm Pacific on a Friday night. April 25th, 2014.

 

[SPORTS CENTER
BRAM WEINSTEIN: an audio recording purportedly of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist remarks to his girlfriend is being investigated by the National Basketball Association.] 

 

[TMZ

DONALD STERLING: Why should you be walking publicly with black people?

V. STIVIANO: Does it matter if they’re white or blue or yellow?

DONALD STERLING: I guess that you don’t know that. Maybe you’re stupid.] 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: I was covering the NBA playoffs for ESPN when this scandal broke. Like literally — I was courtside at a game in Portland, I got a frantic phone call from our news desk telling me I had to listen to this tape.

[TMZ
V. STIVIANO: People call you and tell you that I have black people on my Instagram. And it bothers you.
DONALD STERLING: Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Suddenly the playoff game between the Trail Blazers and the Houston Rockets taking place in front of me seemed completely insignificant. I filed my game story and tried to start wrapping my head around this one. 

[TMZ
V. STIVIANO: Look where all of this negativity are coming from?
DONALD STERLING: There’s no negativity! I love everybody. I’m just saying, in your lousy Instagram, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people. You don’t have to. If you want to, do it.]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Like TMZ’s Mike Walters, as soon as I heard that tape, I knew this was going to be huge. 

[KTLA
REPORTER: The disgraced Clippers owner in the spotlight.
STEVE HARTMAN: Sterling has a long history of questionable behavior.]

[SPORTS CENTER
CHRIS BROUSSARD: Donald Sterling has the mentality of an antebellum slave
master.
STEPHEN A SMITH: It’s obviously appalling it’s very disturbing, but to be quite
honest with you I wasn’t too surprised.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Within hours, the audio of Donald Sterling making racist remarks to V Stiviano had gone viral.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: TMZ’s cameramen and reporters swarmed the lobby of the Clippers team hotel. They had booked several rooms at the Four Seasons in advance so they could legally be inside the private property. Outside the hotel was even more chaotic. The whole world wanted a reaction. Clippers team security advised players and staffers to stay inside their hotel rooms as much as possible. They were on lockdown.

BLAKE GRIFFIN: When it came out, I remember it just being chaos. It just, from then on, that’s all anybody was talking about.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: By morning, LeBron James — the biggest star in the league — was saying there was no room for a person like Donald Sterling in the NBA. 

[SPORTS CENTER
LEBRON JAMES: There’s no room for that in our game. We’ve found a way to make this the greatest game in the world and for comments like that it taints our game and we can’t have that. Can’t have that from a player, we can’t ever from an owner, we can’t have it from a fan and so on and so on. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, Hispanic or whatever the case may be. We can’t have that as part of our game.]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: And across the country, Adam Silver was facing his first real crisis. 

[SPORTS CENTER

ANCHOR: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sitting down in Memphis addressing the comments made by Donald Sterling.]

 

[SPORTS CENTER

ADAM SILVER: … the audio recording posted by TMZ is truly offensive and disturbing. And we intend to get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible.]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Silver launched an investigation within hours. 

 

[SPORTS CENTER

ADAM SILVER: I’m not yet prepared to discuss any potential sanctions against Donald Sterling. We will however move extraordinarily quickly in our investigation.]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: If it was Sterling on those tapes, if they hadn’t been doctored or altered, Silver knew he wanted to punish him severely.

The league was outraged. 

Because on top of Donald Sterling saying all these unforgivably racist things… Sterling was also taking shots at one of the most beloved figures in all of basketball…Magic Johnson.

[TMZ
V. STIVIANO: I saw someone I admire. I admire Magic Johnson.
DONALD STERLING: Okay, good.
V. STIVIANO: And he happens to be black, and I’m sorry.
DONALD STERLING: I think it’s nice that you admire him. I know him well, and he should be admired. And I’m just saying, too bad you can’t admire him privately and during your entire life, your whole life, admire him. Bring him here, feed him, f* him, I don’t care! You could do anything! But don’t put him on Instagram so the world has to see it, so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games, okay?]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: It was as shocking and as bizarre as anything on the tape that a picture of V Stiviano and Magic Johnson had set him off… to hear Donald Sterling talk that way about Magic. The guy who’d turned the Lakers into a dynasty. Who’d fought off HIV. That’s the guy Donald Sterling told his mistress wasn’t welcome at his games?

[NBA COUNTDOWN

SAGE STEELE: Plain and simple, when you heard those comments Magic, what was your reaction?

 

MAGIC JOHNSON: I was really upset. You know, you can’t understand how hurt I was. He shouldn’t own a team any more especially when you have African-Americans renting his apartments, coming to the games, and playing for him, and coaching for him. This is this is bad for everybody, it’s bad for America. And so I’m really upset about it.] 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Even the famously apolitical Michael Jordan voiced his outrage.

 

[FIRST TAKE

CARI CHAMPION: Michael Jordan weighed in: There is no room in the NBA or anywhere else for the kind of racism and hatred that Mr. Sterling allegedly expressed. We cannot tolerate, must not tolerate, discrimination at any level.”]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: But the story was bigger than the NBA, it revealed something raw and ugly… it triggered millions of people.

It’s like what one of the paparazzi who was tailing Donald and Shelly told me: “It had all the elements. Sex, money, sports, politics, greed, racism. It had everything.”

It even had the visor — you remember the visor. That Daft Punk welding mask meets Florida grandma visor that V Stiviano wore any time she stepped outside her house.

 

[KNBC

REPORTER: But still say nothing is V. Stiviano not late this afternoon when she arrived home or when she left tonight wearing different clothes but color coordinated face shields.] 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: The woman who set this whole thing off, was out there rollerblading for the paparazzi. 

 

 

[KNBC

REPORTER: Have you talked to Mr. Sterling?

REPORTER: Can you explain the mask?] 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: This was a full on media circus.

 

[CNN

REPORTER: why are you wearing the shield? 

V. STIVIANO: why are you holding a microphone?

REPORTER: I don’t know, it’s my job

V. STIVIANO: well then, it’s my job.]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: By the end of the weekend, the first black President of the United States was answering questions about Sterling.

[CNN

BARACK OBAMA: I suspect that the NBA is going to be deeply concerned and in resolving this. I will make just one larger comment about this, you know we …the United States continues to wrestle with a legacy of race.]

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: The tapes dominated the news cycle, not just because they were juicy, but because Donald Sterling was articulating something deeper, more shameful — a plantation mentality that’s at the heart of a lot of this country’s history. 

[TMZ
V. STIVIANO: Do you know that you have a whole team that’s black, that plays for you?
DONALD STERLING: You just…do I know? I support them, and give them food and clothes and cars and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Do I know that I have… Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game?]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: That’s an NBA owner. A man worth billions of dollars. Going on for more than 9 minutes, spewing the most vile of racist thoughts. A white owner whose 20-man roster was stacked with a majority of African-American players. Including Ryan Hollins.

RYAN HOLLINS: Those words hurt. When you hear “I don’t want people like that.” Well the people like that play for you. The people like that buy your tickets. The people like that bleed just like you, bruh.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Earthquakes, both real and metaphorical, happened suddenly but they are anything but sudden. Their tremor is a product of tensions that build up for years until the fault lines simply break.

 

Los Angeles sits on two fault lines—the San Andreas and race. All of us know it. We live with it. 

 

Donald Sterling was another. Anyone who played for him, or worked for him, or covered him in the press, or lived in one of his hundreds of apartments. On the one hand knew that it was all a matter of time until he blew up. The underlying issues with Sterling were well known and well documented. But like most insanely wealthy white men in America, Donald had managed to wiggle, bully and fight his way out of all of them. He knew how to play his leverage and power to outlast his adversaries and win, if you can call it that.

 

But this time felt different. 

SHELLY STERLING: I remember I had said, “This is really bad, really bad.” And I knew something was going to happen. I didn’t know what. It was like shock. 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: That’s what we all were — shocked. But we shouldn’t have been surprised.

 

Credits

This season of 30 for 30 Podcasts was produced in association with The Undefeated.

Reported & hosted by Ramona Shelburne

Executive Producer: Julia Lowrie Henderson

Story Editors: Erin Leyden, Jody Avirgan, and Raina Kelley

Producers: Meradith Hoddinott, Ryan Kailath, Stephen Hoffman, and Lauren Gaffney

Archival Producer: Jason Heilig

Associate Producer: Vin D’Anton 

Production Assistants: Derwin Graham, Eve Wulf, and Jefferson Yen

Production Managers: Cath Sankey and Jennifer Thorpe

Original Music by Hannis Brown

Mix Engineering by Hannis Brown and David Herman

Production assistance from Adam Braunstein at ESPN LA radio

The 30 for 30 Podcasts team also includes Mitra Kaboli, Andrew Mambo, Ryan Nantell

Executive Producers for ESPN: Connor Schell, Rob King, Libby Geist & Kevin Merida

Director of Development: Adam Neuhaus

ESPN Audio: Traug Keller, Tom Ricks, Megan Judge, Pete Gianesini, Ryan Granner

This season was produced in collaboration with Western Sound:

Executive Producer: Ben Adair

The Western Sound team also includes: Cameron Kell and Stepfanie Aguilar

Natalie Meade provided fact checking. Hayley Fox did legal research.

Counsel for Creators provided legal counsel.

Special thanks to Stacey Pressman, Mario Ruiz, Chris Morales, and ESPN LA radio

JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE! Courtesy of 12:05 AM Productions, LLC and Jimmy Kimmel Live!