Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who spewed racist comments during recorded conversations that came to light this past weekend, was suspended for life and fined $2.5 million by the National Basketball Association on Wednesday, and commissioner Adam Silver said he will urge NBA owners to force the sale of the team and will “do everything in my power to make sure that happens.”
Twenty-two of the NBA’s 30 owners (three-fourths) would need to approve Sterling’s removal to force him to sell the team, and Silver said that process will begin immediately. Silver said he has spoken to several owners and believes he has their support.
“I fully expect to get the support I need from other NBA owners to remove him,” Silver said, adding “the views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful. That it came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and outrage.”
After Tuesday’s announcement, Heat owner Micky Arison said, on Twitter: “Great job, Adam. The NBA is in good hands. You have my full support.”
LeBron James tweeted: “Commissioner Silver thank you for protecting our beautiful and powerful league!! Great leader!!”
The announcement came three days after TMZ posted an audio recording of Sterling imploring V. Stiviano, his girlfriend at the time, to not bring black people to the team’s games. Silver said the NBA was able to determine that “the hateful opinions” on the tape were uttered by Sterling.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” Sterling said on the audio recording. “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in. You can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on [Instagram]. ... and not to bring them to my games.”
Asked whether it was fair to ban Sterling for comments made in a private conversation, Silver said: “Whether they were initially shared in private, they are now public and reflect his views.”
Asked if Sterling displayed any remorse in their conversation, Silver said Sterling confirmed that the voice on the tape was his but did not offer any other sentiments.
Sterling’s punishment prohibits him from attending games or practices, going to the Clippers’ offices or participating in any Clippers business.
Silver said the ban applies only to Sterling; Silver did not rule out allowing Sterling to sell the team to a family member. His estranged wife, Shelley, is involved with the team.
Silver said he spoke with Clippers guard Chris Paul and coach Doc Rivers, among others, before making his decision.
“I believe the players will be satisfied with the decision,” Silver said. “If a player under contract doesn’t want to play for the Clippers, we’ll deal with that. But that’s not my sense of where we’re at right now.”
Silver said the league is not considering allowing all Clippers players to become free agents this summer, an idea suggested earlier this week by Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander.
“I don’t think this is something we rejoice in,” Rivers said before Tuesday’s playoff game against the Golden State Warriors. “I spoke to the players and they were just happy there’s a resolution. ... It’s the start of the healing process we need.”
It was not immediately clear if Sterling, who has owned the Clippers for 33 years, would fight the NBA’s attempts to remove him as an owner.
According to ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson, Sterling has no legal recourse to contest his penalty. The NBA bylaws state that a commissioner’s decision shall be “final, binding, and conclusive” and shall be considered as final as an award of arbitration.
Reaction to Silver’s announcement around the league came swiftly.
“Commissioner Silver....STRONG...way to take charge and protect our great league,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said on Twitter.
Silver said Sterling’s $2.5 million fine will be donated to antidiscrimination and tolerance efforts jointly selected by NBA and players association.
In a courtyard outside the downtown City Hall, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles and Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, a former NBA player, gathered with a contingent of current and former NBA players with ties to the city’s teams, the Clippers and the Lakers.
Among the current and former players there were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Steve Nash, Tyson Chandler, Norm Nixon and Luke Walton.
More than a half dozen owners have been suspended for at least one year in U.S. pro sports history. The case most similar to Sterling’s involved former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, who in 1993 was suspended for one year and fined $25,000 for several racist and insensitive comments. In 1996, she was suspended for life after stating her support for Adolf Hitler. She sold the team in 1999.
The NBA’s bylaws include a provision for termination when an owner “fails to fulfill” a “contractual obligation” in “such a way as to affect the [NBA] or its members adversely.”
Munson and the owners can force him to sell by asserting that Sterling’s statements violated the constitution’s requirements to conduct business on a “reasonable” and “ethical” level.
Silver or any owner can initiate termination with a written charge describing the violation, Munson said.
Sterling then would have five days to respond to the charge with a written answer. The commissioner would then schedule a special meeting of the NBA Board of Governors within 10 days. Both sides would have a chance to present their evidence, and then the board would vote.
Sterling bought the Clippers for $12.5 million 1981. Forbes recently valued the franchise at $575 million, ranking 18th of 30 teams.
The Heat has sounded off against Sterling’s comments.
Hours after the audio tape was posted by TMZ, Arison called Sterling’s comments “offensive, appalling and sad.”
James said there’s “no room for Donald Sterling in the NBA.” And in a show of solidarity with Clippers players, Heat players turned their warm-up tops inside out before their playoff game against Charlotte on Monday.
Sterling’s comments already have hurt the team financially. CarMax and Virgin America announced they are ending their sponsorships with the franchise, State Farm is temporarily ceasing its sponsorship association with the Clippers, and Kia Motors America reportedly also intends to stop advertising.
“I can understand how upset [the sponsors] are,” Silver said. “I am hopeful there will be no long-term damage to the league or Clippers organization. Appropriate healing will be necessary.”
But this wasn’t the first time that Sterling has been immersed in a controversy involving race:
• Elgin Baylor, who was executive vice president and general manager of the Clippers from 1986 to 2008, filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination against Sterling in 2009, claiming that the team’s owner underpaid him and treated him “as a token because of his race.”
Baylor, who is black, said Sterling wanted a “Southern Plantation-type structure” for the franchise.
Sterling, according to Baylor’s complaint, told Baylor repeatedly that he “wanted the Clippers team to be composed of ‘Poor Black boys from the South’ and a White head coach.”
Before the case went to trial, Baylor dropped the racial discrimination claim but pursued accusations of age discrimination. A jury sided with Sterling in 2011.
• The nonprofit Housing Rights Center and a group of tenants who lived in Sterling’s properties filed a federal lawsuit in 2003 against Sterling, accusing him of “numerous discriminatory statements and housing practices.” An out-of-court settlement was eventually reached.
• A Justice Department lawsuit filed in 2006 accused Sterling’s rental company of refusing to lease Beverly Hills apartments to black people, refusing to rent to nonKoreans in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles County and rejecting families with children from its properties. Sterling agreed to pay nearly $3 million settle the case in 2009 but denied the accusations.