Bryant Gumbel: NBA Knew What Kind of Man Donald Sterling Was

By Melanie Arter | April 28, 2014 | 1:28 PM EDT

Former NBC "Today" show co-hosts Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumbel (AP Photo/Stuart Ramson, File)

( – Bryant Gumbel, host of HBO’s “Real Sports,” said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he’s “surprised that anyone is surprised” by the controversy over Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, because the NBA owner’s “racial history is on the record.”

“I guess I'm surprised that anyone is surprised. I mean Donald Sterling's reputation is such that one could say if you keep a vicious dog for a while and you know he's vicious, you can't be surprised when they bite someone. Donald Sterling's racial history is on the record. It has cost him money. It cost him his reputation long before this,” Gumbel said.

TMZ reported Friday that Sterling allegedly told his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, not to bring blacks to his games, including Magic Johnson. The audio of the whole exchange was captured on tape.

“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” the voice on the tape says. “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that…and not to bring them to my games.”

In 2009, the Justice Department announced “the largest monetary payment ever obtained” in the settlement of alleged housing discrimination in a case against Sterling. He agreed to pay $2.75 million to settle allegations that he discriminated against African-Americans, Hispanics, and families with children at apartment buildings he controls in Los Angeles.

“And so I'm kind of amazed that anyone is surprised at this. And frankly, I'm kind of surprised that the NBA is being let off the hook on this. You know, David Stern and the NBA owners knew what kind of a man Donald Sterling was long before this,” Gumbel said.

“And in the same way as, although I'm not equating the crimes, in the same way as after Aaron Hernandez was charged with these felonies, people wondered why the New England Patriots had him on their roster to begin with, one can sit here and look at and say, "Well, why did the NBA allow this man to own a team when they knew what kind of a person he was?”

L.A. Clippers President Andy Roeser issued a statement, saying: “We have heard the tape on TMZ. We do not know if it is legitimate or it has been altered. We do know that the woman on the tape -- who we believe released it to TMZ -- is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family alleging that she embezzled more than $1.8 million, who told Mr. Sterling that she would ‘get even.’

“Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them,” Roeser said.

“He is also upset and apologizes for sentiments attributed to him about Earvin Johnson. He has long considered Magic a friend and has only the utmost respect and admiration for him--both in terms of who he is and what he has achieved. We are investigating this matter,” Roeser added.

“I mean I don't want us to get sidetracked. We historically, whether it's Donald Sterling or Cliven Bundy or Trayvon Martin, we look at a tip of the iceberg and we ignore the mass underneath it,” Gumbel said.

“I think the players of the Clippers have an obligation to play. They have a contract. It says nothing about, ‘Oh, you only have to play if your owner turns out to be a great guy,’” Gumbel said.

Gumbel challenged the players and fans to look at the causes that sports owners “embrace” and determine whether it is consistent with what they believe in.

“I would like to see athletes and fans start taking a very good look at the owners who own their teams, and particularly in light of the Supreme Court's recent decisions on how much money people can give to causes and candidates, taking a look at where their owners are putting their money,” he said.

As National Review Online reported Sunday, Sterling has only given money to Democratic candidates, according to campaign contribution records. He donated $6,000 with no political activity since the early 1990’s. He also supported Gray Davis early in his career.

“Those owners certainly have a right to embrace the causes and candidates they wish. But I think African-American fans and players then have a right to say, ‘What you're embracing is not consistent with what I believe in, and so I would rather play elsewhere, or I'd rather spend my money elsewhere.’ That's where I think people need to start looking,” Gumbel said.