Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA for life Tuesday, league commissioner Adam Silver announced in a forceful and emotional statement at a news conference in New York. Silver said he would urge NBA owners to force a sale of the team.
Sterling confirmed to Silver that it was his voice on an audio recording made public by TMZ over the weekend, in which Sterling made racist remarks about African-Americans and chided his girlfriend, who is black and Hispanic, for appearing in public with people of color.
The league fined Sterling $2.5 million, the maximum penalty under NBA rules. Sterling, who is worth $1.9 billion, is the longest standing team owner in the NBA. He bought the Clippers in 1981 for $12 million. Forbes estimates the team is now valued at around $575 million.
Silver vowed to do “everything in his power” to urge the 30 teams whose owners make up the NBA Board of Governors to strip Sterling’s ownership of the Clippers and force a sale of the team. The commissioner said he needs the support of three-quarters of the group and that he had the backing of several owners.
“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,” Silver said. “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.”
The decision was an early test for Silver, who took over as commissioner just over three months ago. The punitive measures against Sterling mark an unprecedented move against a league owner, coming just as the NBA launches into the all-important playoff season. On behalf of the NBA, Silver apologized personally to some of the NBA’s greatest athletes – and specifically to Magic Johnson, who was a target of Sterling’s rants.
Players, teams and owners largely embraced the NBA’s actions against Sterling, with rousing support behind Silver.
Johnson, speaking for former and current NBA players, said he was “very happy and satisfied” with the ruling, and applauded Silver’s “great leadership” in banning Sterling.
Steve Nash of the Los Angeles Lakers said it was a “proud day for all of us players.” Basketball great Kareem Abdul Jabbar called Silver’s remarks ”so on the mark” and said Clippers fans “will have a lot to smile about.”
The Clippers face their fifth game in the playoff series against the Golden State Warriors Tuesday night in Los Angeles, where activists and civil rights leaders planned to protest outside the Staples Center. Following the NBA press conference, the team released a statement saying the players “wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision.”
“Now the healing process begins,” the statement said.
Sterling’s recorded remarks opened wounds that rippled through the league as companies fled from any association with the team’s owner and advertisers pulled their money. Corporate sponsors – including State Farm, Virgin America, Kia, CarMax and Red Bull – began pulling deals with the Clippers amid the ongoing investigation.
The NAACP said it “welcomed and supported” the action against Sterling Tuesday, after leaders of its L.A. chapter rescinded a lifetime achievement award the day before. The group said moving forward, it would develop guidelines for their award selection process to “prevent unfortunate decisions like this from occurring in the future.”
TMZ Sports first released the recorded phone conversation late Friday, capturing a fight between Sterling and his girlfriend, V. Stiviano.
“There is no negativity. I love everybody,” Sterling said in the recording. “I’m just saying in your lousy f***** Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people… You can sleep with them. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that, and not to bring them to my games.”The remarks drew scorn throughout the basketball industry, with NBA owners largely united in calls for action against Sterling. Johnson said over the weekend he would boycott all Clippers games for as long as Sterling remains at the team’s helm, and called the comments “a black eye for the NBA.” Former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan said he was “disgusted” and “completely outraged.” Even President Obama entered the fray while traveling abroad in Asia over the weekend, saying the remarks prove the “vestiges of discrimination” remain.
Clippers President Andy Roeser initially responded to the recordings Saturday, saying the remarks caught on tape were not “consistent with, nor does it reflect (Sterling’s) views, beliefs or feelings.” Roeser also noted that Sterling’s girlfriend, Stiviano, is currently in a lawsuit with the Sterling family for allegedly embezzling more than $1.8 million, and that she allegedly said she would “get even.”
An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that Sterling was fined $5 million. The maximum fine is $2.5 million.