NEW YORK, (Reuters) – The National Basketball Association today banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the game for life and fined him $2.5 million for racist comments that outraged everyone from players, to fans, coaches and the U.S. president.
Sterling, the longest-tenured owner of any of the 30 NBA teams, will not be allowed any role in the operations of his team or be able to serve as one of the league’s governors, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said at a news conference in New York.
Silver urged the other owners to vote to force Sterling to sell the team, a move that would require approval of three-quarters of the current owners.
The controversy began over the weekend when the celebrity website TMZ.com released an audio recording with a voice said to be Sterling’s criticizing a friend for associating with “black people”
“The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful,” said Silver, who is confronting his first major crisis since he was named commissioner in February.
An investigation concluded the voice on the recording was Sterling’s, Silver told reporters. He said Sterling confirmed it was his voice but did not apologize.
“He has not expressed to me directly any other views,” Silver told reporters as the NBA responded to a wave of outrage
in a league that was on the forefront of racial integration in U.S. professional sports and where most of the players are black. Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president, called Sterling’s comments “incredibly offensive racist statements.”
Sterling could not be reached for immediate comment today.
The decision drew praise from around the league. The Clippers said in a statement that the team “wholeheartedly” supports the NBA’s decision and members of the Los Angeles Lakers joined the city’s mayor at a news conference in a show of support for Silver.
WILL HE SELL?
The ban may not be enough for some critics, who called on Sterling to give up ownership of the Clippers, though observers said the other 29 owners of NBA franchises were not likely to back any move that could set a precedent that would harm their property rights.
Former Los Angeles Laker Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who was drawn directly into the scandal when the audio recording revealed Sterling asking a friend not to invite the former NBA great to games.
“Now let’s hope that the other 29 owners do the right thing,” Johnson said on Twitter.
But convincing the other owners may be an uphill battle, said Robert Boland, chairman of the sports management department at New York University.
“Every owner would be worried that it would create a situation where people later came after them,” Boland said.
The recording on TMZ.com included part of an argument between Sterling and a model who uses the name V. Stiviano about photographs posted to Instagram. “People call you and tell you that I have black people on my Instagram. And it bothers you,” the voice said to be Stiviano’s says.
The woman also notes in the conversation that she is of Latino and black heritage.
“Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to promo … broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” the voice said to be Sterling’s says.
An attorney for Stiviano declined to comment on the decision.
The league acted one day after a series of Los Angeles Clippers sponsors including auto dealer CarMax Inc, Virgin America, State Farm, Kia Motors America, music mogul P. Diddy’s water brand, AQUAHydrate, Red Bull and Yokohama Tire all announced that they were stepping back from the team.
Some advertisers had asked to move their commercials out of the national broadcast of Tuesday’s Clippers playoff game against the Golden State Warriors by TNT, owned by Time Warner Inc, and the local airing on a sports channel owned by 21st Century Fox, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Sterling bought the Clippers in 1981 at a time when basketball was far less commercially successful than it is today, and the franchise could now be worth as much as $800 million, estimated Boland.
Sterling is a property owner who was sued in 2003 for discrimination in housing by the U.S. government. The lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles accused him of telling his staff to rent to Asian tenants but not black or Hispanic people.
Silver said the decision to ban Sterling from the game had not taken his past history into account. He said, however, that when the owners vote on whether to force him to sell, “they will take into account a lifetime of behavior.”