Gossip website TMZ on Saturday posted an audio recording it says shows billionaire Clippers owner Donald Sterling telling his girlfriend to refrain from bringing black guests to see his team play.
Sterling, 80, was reportedly angry about a photograph that the woman, identified only as V Stiviano, posted on social media site Instagram with retired Los Angeles Lakers basketball legend Magic Johnson.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you are associating with black people. Do you have to?” Sterling allegedly says in the nearly 10-minute recording.
“You can sleep with (black people). You can bring them in. You can do whatever you want. The little I ask is not to promote it on that... and not to bring them to my games.”
Later in the audio, the woman identifies herself as “black and Mexican”.
“In your lousy... Instagrams you don't have to have yourself walking with black people,” says the male voice.
Obama, the first African American president and a keen basketball player and fan, interrupted his diplomatic initiative in Asia to condemn "ignorant" and "incredibly offensive" racist remarks.
"I don't think I have to interpret those statements for you. They kind of speak for themselves," said the president, speaking in Malaysia. "When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don't really have to do anything, you just let them talk."
Obama also made a wider point about racism in the United States, which he said is still wrestling with the legacy of slavery and segregation.
"We just have to be clear and steady in denouncing it, teaching our children differently but also (remain) hopeful that part of why some statements like this stand out so much is because there has been a shift in how we view ourselves," he said.
National Basketball Association (NBA) commissioner Adam Silver, who promised to move "extraordinary quickly in our investigation" of the controversy, said, “The audio recording posted by TMZ is truly offensive and disturbing."
Silver said the league planned to interview Sterling, the woman on the tape, and possibly have the probe wrapped up before the Clippers' next home game late Tuesday.
"There are broad powers in place under the NBA constitution and by-laws that include a range of sanctions. All those will be considered and will depend on the findings of our investigation," he said, adding however that Sterling was owed "due process."
The remarks do not reflect Sterling's opinions on race, Clippers president Andy Roeser said as he announced a team probe.
Roeser added that the woman identified as Stiviano "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.'"
According to the Los Angeles Times, Stiviano is in her 20s and has been seen often at Sterling's side.
In a lawsuit filed last month, Sterling's wife claims that her husband gave Stiviano money and expensive cars, The Times reported.
The outrage from NBA stars was clear, loud and emphatic.
"Magic" Johnson vowed on Twitter that he and his wife Cookie would never attend another Clippers' game as long as Sterling owns the team.
"LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling's comments about African Americans are a black eye for the NBA," Johnson wrote.
"No room for Donald Sterling in our league," Miami Heat superstar LeBron James said. "I can't imagine what's going on in his head."
"It's a damn shame but a sad reality that we have people like that in this world," Los Angeles Lakers star guard Kobe Bryant said.
"It upsets all of us. There's not one guy who is happy with this situation," said Clippers coach Glenn "Doc" Rivers after a team meeting on the matter before a practice session.
Sterling has expressed racist views before, according to former Clipper standout Baron Davis.
"That's the way it is.. He is honest about what he believes in.. Been going on for a long time, Hats off 2 the Team.. 4 playin above it all," Davis wrote on Twitter.
African American rights activist Jesse Jackson called for fans to boycott Clippers' games.
"If we are just going from picking cotton balls to picking basketballs, then we are not making progress. It's about dignity," Jackson told ESPN.
Sterling was not available for comment.