(Associated Press & AOL.com, 29 April 2014)
Issuing about the strongest rebuke that he could, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life Tuesday for making racist comments in a recorded conversation, the first step toward forcing a sale of the club and permanently removing Sterling from the league. Silver also fined Sterling $2.5 million, and again expressed outrage. "I fully expect to get the support I need from the other NBA owners to remove him," Silver said. Several owners immediately chimed in with support of Silver's decision. Sterling, the league's longest-tenured owner and someone with an estimated net worth of about $2 billion, did not offer any immediate comment.
The penalties, which were announced only three days after the scandal broke, are the harshest ever issued by the league and among the stiffest punishments ever given to an owner in professional sports. Silver said a league investigation found that Sterling was in fact the person on the audiotapes that were released over the weekend and immediately sent shock waves throughout the game. "We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling's views," Silver said. "They simply have no place in the NBA."
Sterling acknowledged he was the man on the tape, Silver said. Sterling still owns the team, but going forward he is immediately barred from attending any NBA games or practices, being present at any Clippers office or facility, participating in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team, or being part of any league business. It's unclear how Sterling will respond.
"This league is far bigger than any one owner, any one coach and any one player," said Silver, who as commissioner has broad powers under what's typically called the "best interest of the game" clause of the NBA constitution. But Silver works for the owners, and he will need 75 percent of them - if all 30 teams vote, he'll need 23 on his side - to force Sterling out of the league completely. The fine will be donated to organizations dedicated to anti-discrimination and tolerance efforts that will be jointly selected by the NBA and the Players Association, Silver said. "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."
After the announcement, the Clippers' website had a simple message: "We are one," it read. "We wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision by the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver today. Now the healing process begins," the Clippers added in a statement. Sterling's comments were released over the weekend by TMZ and Deadspin, and numerous NBA owners and players have condemned them. Even President Barack Obama weighed in on the crisis, the first of Silver's brief tenure as commissioner. "Commissioner Silver thank you for protecting our beautiful and powerful league!! Great leader!!," Miami Heat star LeBron James wrote on Twitter.
The league's investigation started Saturday and players immediately began expressing intense displeasure with the situation, even going so far as to ask Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to get involved on behalf of the players' union. "When one rotten apple does something, or if you see cancer, you've got to cut it out really quickly," Kevin Johnson said at a news conference in Los Angeles, flanked by NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and players like Steve Nash, Tyson Chandler, Luke Walton and Roger Mason Jr., among others. "And Commissioner Silver did that in real time. We're so proud and thankful for him." The sanctions came a few hours before the Clippers were to play Golden State in Game 5 of a tied-up Western Conference first-round playoff series. "When you get this many Lakers to stand up for the Clippers, you know something big is happening in L.A.," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. "We are a single team here today, a team not only speaking out for what we're against - racism, hatred, bigotry, intolerance - but what we're for. We're for great basketball." Before Silver took the podium, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban tweeted out a photo of the NBA Constitution, saying "It exists for a reason."
Several sponsors either terminated or suspended their business dealings with the team on Monday, though individual deals that some of those companies have with Clippers stars like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will continue and were not affected. Still, it was a clear statement that companies, like just about everyone inside the league, were outraged. "Commissioner Silver showed great leadership in banning LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life," Magic Johnson, who was referenced on the taped conversation involving Sterling, tweeted shortly after the league's decision was announced. Johnson's role on the tape stemmed from Sterling's female companion apparently posting a photo of her and the Hall of Fame player on her Instagram account. That photo has since been deleted, but raised Sterling's ire nonetheless. "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.
The issues raised when the tapes were released over the weekend represent just another chapter in Sterling's long history of being at the center of controversy. In the past, he's faced extensive federal charges of civil rights violations and racial discrimination in his business dealings, and some of his race-related statements would be described as shocking. He has also been sued in the past for sexual harassment by former employees, and even the woman who goes by the name "V. Stiviano" - purportedly the female voice on the tapes at the center of this scandal - describes Sterling in court documents 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 Rochelle Sterling, who is seeking to reclaim at least $1.8 million in cash and gifts that her husband allegedly provided the woman.
Silver said when he first heard the audio, he hoped it had been altered or was fake - but also said that from his 20-year relationship with Sterling, he suspected the voice was his. "This has been a painful moment," Silver said, "for all members of the NBA family."