By Lisa Maria Garza
AUSTIN Texas (Reuters) - Sports legends told a U.S. mayors' conference in Dallas on Monday the controversy around Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling exposed racism in some segments of society and called on the urban leaders to use his case as a tool to end discrimination.
Six-time NBA champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who briefly served as an assistant coach for the Clippers in 2000, said he was surprised then disgusted by Sterling's comments.
"To find that type of sentiment in someone who relies on black Americans for so much of his success and public profile, it was amazing. I couldn’t believe that someone could have that much bigotry inside and think that it was OK,” Abdul-Jabbar said.
Sterling was banned by the National Basketball Association earlier this year after being caught on tape making racially disparaging comments about blacks.
A four-day trial in probate court is set to begin on July 7 to determine whether Sterling or his wife, Shelly, is the controlling owner of the team. The NBA owners will vote on July 15 on whether to approve the record $2 billion sale of the Clippers to former Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer.
Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin told the mayors' meeting he hopes the Sterling drama will serve as a catalyst for positive changes in society.
"We can focus on Donald Sterling all we want or we can be smart about it and focus on what we can all accomplish when we come together as one," he said.
The mayors set up the panel to look at the impact from the controversy surrounding Sterling.
"Sports brings people together. Sports can also divide us. There can be a meanness, an ugliness, as is the case in this Clippers episode," Indianapolis Mayor Gregory Ballard said at the session.
(Reporting by Lisa Maria Garza; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Eric Beech)