NBA commissioner Adam Silver moved swiftly and sternly Tuesday, banning longtime Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league for his taped comments regarding African-Americans.
On the job for just three months and under pressure from a chorus of critics that included President Barack Obama, Silver issued the strongest reprimand possible under NBA guidelines. He also fined Sterling $2.5 million.
The commissioner said he will work with the league’s Board of Governors to force Sterling, 80, to sell the Clippers, and Sterling will not be allowed to so much as attend an NBA game again.
“We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views,” Silver said, adding that Sterling acknowledged to him that it was his voice on the tape. “They simply have no place in the NBA.”
The action was welcome news to many Clippers fans and the team. About 100 people gathered outside Staples Center before the team’s playoff game against Golden State on Tuesday night to celebrate the decision, and Clippers coach Doc Rivers said that it would “begin the healing process” for the Clippers, the league and the country.
First reported by the websites TMZ and Deadspin, Sterling’s comments were believed to be recorded by a woman named V. Stiviano. On the tape, Sterling is heard admonishing the woman to stop associating with black people and quit bringing black people to Clippers games. On the same tape, Sterling further criticizes the woman for being photographed with black men, including former L.A. Lakers star Magic Johnson.
Stiviano had posted a photo of herself and Johnson to her Instagram account.
“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.
An NBA statement issued as Silver spoke in New York said Sterling “violated league rules through his expressions of offensive and hurtful views, the impact of which has been widely felt throughout the league.”
The stiff rebuke, which also bars Sterling from being “present at any Clippers office or facility, or (participating) in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team,” is one of the toughest ever given to an owner in professional sports.
Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, said she applauded Tuesday’s action.
“Hopefully this will send a message that racists and bigots should pay a penalty and suffer the consequences for this type of public behavior,” Grant said.
Johnson has been mentioned as a possible buyer for the Clippers but on Monday denied any interest in purchasing the franchise, which analysts estimate could fetch upwards of $575 million. Sterling bought the team in 1981 for $12 million.
“Commissioner Silver showed great leadership in banning LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life,” Johnson tweeted Tuesday.
Silver said he had the unanimous support of other NBA owners, which appears to be critical. He indicated he’d need a 75 percent majority of the 29 other owners to ratify the ban and force a sale, according to the NBA’s confidential constitution.
Some have criticized Silver’s predecessor, David Stern, for failing to respond to previous allegations against Sterling, who has faced extensive federal charges of civil rights violations and racial discrimination in his business dealings.
Silver said the commissioner’s office took into account only this particular case, not previous allegations of racism.
“When specific evidence was brought to the NBA, we acted,” Silver said.
Broad condemnation following release of the audio tape transcended lines of sports and business, with Obama among those voicing disgust over Sterling’s remarks. And after Tuesday’s punishment was handed down, praise was just as widespread.
Current players around the league had spent the previous two days staging small pregame protests. The Clippers, who lost some key sponsors and advertisers in the fallout, played the Golden State Warriors in game five of a tied NBA playoffs series Tuesday night.
“When one rotten apple does something, or if you see cancer, you’ve got to cut it out really quickly,” former NBA player-turned-Sacramento, Calf., Mayor Kevin Johnson said at a news conference in L.A. Flanked by NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson spoke on behalf of the National Basketball Players Association.
Sterling has been sued in the past for sexual harassment by former employees, according to The Associated Press. In a court filing, Stiviano referred to Sterling 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 Sterling’s wife, Rochelle, who is “seeking to reclaim at least $1.8 million in cash and gifts that her husband allegedly provided the woman,” according to an AP report.
Silver said the $2.5 million fine levied against Sterling will be donated to anti-discrimination and tolerance-teaching organizations.
“This has all happened in three days, and so I am hopeful there will be no long-term damage to the league and to the Clippers organization,” Silver said. “But as I said earlier, I’m outraged so I certainly understand other people’s outrage. This will take some time, and appropriate healing will be necessary.”
The Associated Press and The Star’s Judy L. Thomas contributed to this report.