"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?" Sterling asks the woman on the tape.
The issues raised when the tapes were released over the weekend represent just another chapter in Sterling's long history of being at the center of controversy.
In the past, he's faced extensive federal charges of civil rights violations and racial discrimination in his business dealings, and some of his race-related statements would be described as shocking.
He has also been sued in the past for sexual harassment by former employees, and even the woman who goes by the name "V. Stiviano" — purportedly the female voice on the tapes at the center of this scandal — describes Sterling in court documents as a man "with a big toothy grin brandishing his sexual prowess in the faces of the Paparazzi and caring less what anyone else thought, the least of which, his own wife."
Stiviano is being sued by Rochelle Sterling, who is seeking to reclaim at least $1.8 million in cash and gifts that her husband allegedly provided the woman.
Silver said when he first heard the audio, he hoped it had been altered or was fake — but also said that from his 20-year relationship with Sterling, he suspected the voice was his.
"This has been a painful moment," Silver said, "for all members of the NBA family."