Clippers lose sponsorships amid Donald Sterling controversy

In this photo taken on Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, right, and V. Stiviano, left, watch the Clippers play the Sacramento Kings in Los Angeles. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

NEW YORK -- Used car dealership chain CarMax and airline Virgin America said Monday that they are ending their respective sponsorships of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers in the wake of racist comments attributed to team owner Donald Sterling.

A third sponsor, insurer State Farm, said it "will be taking a pause in our relationship with the organization." For now, it will continue to run its Born to Assist ad campaign, which stars Clippers point guard Chris Paul.

Sterling is alleged to have made the comments in a recorded conversation with a woman. Portions of that conversation were released over the weekend by TMZ and Deadspin, leading to a national outcry.

"CarMax finds the statements attributed to the Clippers' owner completely unacceptable," Richmond, Va.-based CarMax Inc. said Monday in an emailed statement. "While we have been a proud Clippers sponsor for 9 years and support the team, fans and community, these statements necessitate that CarMax end its sponsorship."

Virgin America echoed those sentiments in a company statement: "While we continue to support the fans and the players, Virgin America has made the decision to end its sponsorship of the L.A. Clippers."

State Farm also described the remarks as offensive and said it will monitor the situation as the facts are sorted out. The Born to Assist campaign began in December 2012, and it features Paul as himself and a fictional insurance-selling twin, Cliff Paul.

"Sponsoring the athletes is one thing, but not the team," said Steve Stoute, the head of marketing firm Translation, which represents State Farm, on ESPN radio.

"I'm telling the brands, 'Let's pull sponsorship,' starting with State Farm," Stoute said, according to Mediaite. "When you have things like this taking place, somebody has to stand up."

The NBA said it would make an announcement about its investigation involving Sterling on Tuesday.

The NAACP announced that Sterling would not be receiving a lifetime achievement award from the L.A. Branch of the organization as planned on May 15. On Monday, the NAACP said that Sterling had given the organization an "insignificant amount of money" and they planned to return it.

"This situation is a massive distraction for the league right now," said Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, the former NBA All-Star who is serving as an adviser to the National Basketball Players Association while the Sterling matter plays out. "It must be addressed immediately."

NBA commissioner Adam Silver's first priority is verifying Sterling's voice is on the recording. From there, Silver's next move remains unclear. He works for the owners - and so far that group seems to have no sympathy for Sterling's latest controversy.

Among those who have spoken out publicly to condemn the alleged Sterling remarks: Washington's Ted Leonsis, Miami's Micky Arison and perhaps most notably, Charlotte's Michael Jordan, who won six NBA titles as a player.

"I'm obviously disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views," Jordan said in a statement released Sunday. "I'm confident that Adam Silver will make a full investigation and take appropriate action quickly.

Silver started as commissioner Feb. 1, replacing the retired David Stern. Silver met with Kevin Johnson on Sunday and heard five things that the players' union wants from the commissioner, that list includes:

-Sterling doesn't attend any NBA games for the rest of the playoffs because of the "enormous distraction."

-A full account of past allegations of discrimination by Sterling and why the league never sanctioned him.

-An explanation of the range of penalties the league could bring against Sterling.

-Assurance the NBA and the union will be partners in the investigation.

-A decisive ruling.








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