LOS ANGELES - Wary sponsors lined up to dump the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday as pressure mounted over racist remarks allegedly made by the NBA team's owner, the embattled billionaire Donald Sterling.
Among them was a water brand owned by rap music star Sean "Diddy" Combs, as the National Basketball Association said it would make an announcement Tuesday about the league's investigation of Sterling, whose team is valued at US$575 million (S$722 million) by Forbes magazine.
Comments attributed to Sterling, heard in a recording first made public by celebrity news website TMZ at the weekend, have set off a firestorm around the 80-year-old real-estate tycoon, who bought the Clippers for US$12 million in 1981.
Clippers players, in the middle of a first-round playoff battle with the Golden State Warriors, staged a silent on-court protest on Sunday and NBA luminaries have called for the league to take tough action against Sterling, who has remained silent since the remarks surfaced.
But Sterling's estranged wife Rochelle upped the ante when she said Monday the voice in the recording was that of her husband.
Sponsors make fast break
Major sponsors Chumash Casino and used auto dealer CarMax pulled out of their deals with the Clippers, with CarMax saying the remarks attributed to Sterling were "completely unacceptable." "These views directly conflict with CarMax's culture of respect for all individuals," it said.
Chumash Casino, which is run by Native Americans, told ESPN that "we cannot ignore any statement that causes harm or hurts any group. As a result, we're withdrawing our sponsorship of the Clippers organisation."
A representative for Virgin America told TMZ while the airline would "continue to support the fans and the players, Virgin America has made the decision to end its sponsorship of the LA Clippers."
Rap star Combs' AQUAhydrate water said on Twitter it was also suspending its deal. Insurance giant State Farm also hit the pause button while the investigation was ongoing.
And Kia Motors - known for having Clippers star Blake Griffin leap over one of its cars in an NBA Slam Dunk Contest - joined Yokohama Tires, Red Bull, Sprint and Lumber Liquidators in suspending sponsor deals with the Clippers.
Anheuser-Busch, makers of the NBA's official beer, said that while the company was not a team sponsor, "we fully support the NBA's efforts to investigate quickly and trust that they will take appropriate action."