Clippers owner Donald Sterling banned for life from NBA

After an NBA investigation into racially insensitive comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, Commissioner Adam Silver announced Sterling is banned from the league for life. (Reuters)

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life from the NBA, Commissioner Adam Silver announced Tuesday, because of an audio recording in which he made racially charged comments to his girlfriend.

Silver said he would urge the Board of Governors to force the sale of the team and fined Sterling $2.5 million, the maximum Silver can levy under the NBA constitution and bylaws. The money, the league announced, will be donated to anti-discrimination and tolerance organizations that will be jointly selected by the NBA and the Players Association.

“The central findings of the investigation are that the man whose voice is heard on the recording, and on a second recording from the same conversation — that was released on Sunday — is Mr. Sterling, and that the hateful opinions voiced by that man are those of Mr. Sterling,” Silver said, making his historic announcement before a packed press conference in New York City.

“The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful. That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage. Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse multi-cultural and multi-ethnic league.”

“Accordingly, effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life, from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA. Mr. Sterling may not attend any NBA games or practices, he may not be present at any Clippers facility, and he may not participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team.”

Silver said Sterling admitted to him that the racist remarks on a recording released last week by TMZ were his and that he would “do everything in my power” to see that Sterling was forced to sell the Clippers. “I fully expect to get the support I need to remove him,” Silver said.

Related: Other punished owners | What are Clippers worth? | NBA players react

Shortly after the announcement, the Clippers’ website went to an all-black background with only the words “We are one” and the team said in a statement: “We wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision by the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver today. Now the healing process begins.”

(Photo courtesy of Neil Greenberg)
(Screengrab courtesy L.A. Clippers)

Silver said he had discussed his decision with Clippers Coach Doc Rivers and guard Chris Paul, who also is president of the National Basketball Players Association. “I believe the players will be satisfied with the decision,” Silver said. Clippers players had protested before their playoff game Sunday by turning their shirts inside out and throwing their warmup shirts, with the big team logo, at center court.

Kevin Johnson, the former player and Sacramento mayor who has been working with the NBPA, said: “Today the players believe the commissioner has done his duty. On this day, Adam Silver is not only the owners commissioner, he is the player’s commissioner.” Among the things riding on Silver’s decision was a possible boycott of games, Roger Mason Jr. said at Kevin Johnson’s press conference.

Sterling stands to make a killing on the sale of the team, which he purchased in 1981 for $12.5 million and is likely to carry a $1 billion pricetag. (The Milwaukee Bucks, by comparison, recently were sold for $550 million.) Speculation began immediately about who will be the new owner, with Magic Johnson’s name rising to the top of the list. “Magic Johnson knows he is always welcome as an owner in this league,” Silver said, when asked about that in a question-and-answer session after his announcement.

Immediate reaction to the announcement was relief. CBS’s Tracy Wolfson tweeted that she was at the hotel at which the Washington Wizards were staying and, when Silver made the announcement, “cheers just came from a room nearby.”

The decision, the first major problem Silver has faced since succeeding David Stern in February, came after a four-day investigation sparked by TMZ.com’s publication of the recording. The contents of the recording, in which a man the NBA determined is Sterling asks his girlfriend not to bring blacks to games and urges her to delete an Instagram photo of herself with Johnson, rocked the NBA, a league in which 76 percent of the players are African-American.

A firestorm ensued, overshadowing the playoffs and prompting protests by Clippers players during Game 4 of their series with Golden State on Sunday and by the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks on Monday night. Michael Jordan reacted as an owner and Hall of Fame player, saying he was “appalled that this type of ignorance still exists within our country and at the highest levels of our sport.”

By Monday, the Clippers were losing lucrative sponsorships, with Virgin America, CarMax, Mercedes-Benz and the Chumash Resort Casino bailing and other companies, including State Farm, Kia Motors America, Red Bull, Lumber Liquidators, Yokohama Tire, LoanMart, Corona, AQUAhydrate and Sprint, suspending their involvement.

On Tuesday, the degree to which the conversation continued to rage was measured by a comment from Oprah Winfrey, who told TMZ: “We’re off the plantation. The plantation days are over.” And Spike Lee, the filmmaker and New York Knicks fan, attended Silver’s press conference after saying Monday that Sterling has “the mentality of a slave master.” Disney CEO Bob Iger said he was “appalled by” the comments.

More on Donald Sterling and the Clippers:

If Sterling stays, Doc Rivers may go

How the ‘nuclear option’ could work with Sterling

Late-night shows roast Sterling to varied success

Mark Jackson: Fans should protest Game 5

Donald Trump says Sterling’s girlfriend set him up

Sterling costs Clippers a bevy of sponsors

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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