Tom Tolbert joined the latest episode of The Jim Rome Podcast, and the former NBA player talked about the 1993-94 season he spent in Los Angeles playing for the Clippers and disgraced former owner Donald T. Sterling. Sterling was forced to sell the franchise after the league imposed a lifetime ban on the Clippers owner after racist comments from the then 80-year old were leaked to the media. Tolbert said the rest of the NBA shouldn’t have been surprised.
“He’s just a weird guy. He was the guy, when he was walking down the halls, or if you saw him in the bowels of the arena, you’d duck into a broom closet just to avoid him,” Tolbert said. “Like you didn’t want to say hi to him, you didn’t want him to say hi to you. He’d be in the locker room just like looking at you, like if he wasn’t the owner you’d be like, get this guy out of here. This guy is creepy, get this guy out of here.”
It didn’t take long for Tolbert to reach that conclusion. His first interaction with Sterling started with a racial slur.
“He grabs me by my arm, and I kid you not, he goes, ‘You’re big and strong. You’re going to be able to compete with the black guys,’” Tolbert recalled. “Like it stunned me almost. Did he just say that? I think he just said that. I just thought that was such a weird, racist, unorthodox thing to say to somebody.
“First of all you grab me by my arm, you don’t know me, like almost I was almost a piece of property to him, like he paid for me, bought me, like he inspected me, so he grabbed me by my arm and squeezed me by my bicep. And then when he said you can compete with the black guys, I was like what, what’s that mean.”
Tolbert contends Sterling’s exit from the league in 2014 wasn’t about the league finding out what he was really about. It was that the world had finally been exposed to it.
“When the whole racist thing broke, I’m like, duh, really, we’re going to make a big deal out of that now? Like everybody knew that, everybody knew what this guy was all about, the housing stories. All that stuff, it was just nobody wanted to make a deal out of it because no one wanted anybody digging into their stuff. But when it became patently obvious and everyone knew, not just people in the game knew, it became, hey this guy could end up costing us money, and that’s what it always comes down to. If it costs us money, it’s a problem,” Tolbert said. “If they wanted to get rid of him because he was a racist, they could have done that 20 years ago and been on solid ground.”
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