Donald Sterling, the longtime owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, was barred from the NBA for life and may be forced to sell the team for making racist remarks, the league commissioner, Adam Silver, announced Tuesday. Silver said Sterling would be barred from any contact with his team and the league and that he would be fined $2.5 million, the maximum allowed by the league’s constitution.
“The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful,” the commissioner said. “We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views. They simply have no place in the NBA.”
The commissioner said Sterling, in an interview, had admitted to him that the racist remarks on a recording released last week by the website TMZ were his. He said he would “do everything in my power” to see that Sterling was forced to sell the Clippers.
“I fully expect to get the support I need to remove him,” Silver said.
Before the announcement, Silver said, he discussed the decision with coach Doc Rivers and guard Chris Paul of the Clippers. “I believe the players will be satisfied with the decision,” Silver said.
The commissioner’s announcement came at the conclusion of the league’s investigation, which started over the weekend after the recording was released and news of it spread. The ensuing outrage put tremendous pressure on Silver to act decisively.
After the announcement, the immediate reaction from players and owners supported Silver’s decision. James L. Dolan, the owner of the Knicks, was among those releasing statements.
“This behavior has no place in basketball, or anywhere else,” Dolan said in a statement. “We as a league must stand together in condemning this ignorance.”
The process of forcing a sale will begin immediately, Silver said, first working through the league’s advisory finance committee. The board of governors will make the final decision, which would require approval of three-quarters of the 30 team owners.
“When the board ultimately considers his overall fitness to be an owner in the NBA, they will take into account a lifetime of behavior,” Silver said.
Sterling has not made any public comments or released a statement since the penalties were announced. Silver said Sterling expressed no remorse about the sentiments in the recording during his interview with the league.
The Clippers, who will host Game 5 of their first-round playoff series with the Golden State Warriors tonight, a series that is tied, 2-2, were thrust into an awkward position. They quickly changed the home page of their website to contain only a team logo and the words, “We Are One.” But unless Sterling is forced to sell, he still owns the team.
Leaguewide reaction, however, included support of the team itself while condemning Sterling and congratulating the league for strong action.
Owners, players and advertisers had been speaking out since the recording emerged, with players staging on-court protests and advertisers suspending or cutting ties with the team.
Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, was among those cautioning the league to move carefully, calling it “a very, very slippery slope” when owners are disciplined for their words. But, after the decision, Cuban expressed full support of the move.
“What Donald said was wrong,” Cuban told reporters Tuesday. “It was abhorrent. There’s no place for racism in the NBA, any business I’m associated with, and I don’t want to be associated with people who have that position. But at the same time that’s a decision I make. I think you’ve got to be very, very careful when you start making blanket statements about what people say and think, as opposed to what they do. It’s a very, very slippery slope.”
Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, a former NBA star who had called for the league to issue the maximum possible penalty against Sterling, expressed his unequivocal support of Silver’s move.
“Adam Silver showed he is not just the owners’ commissioner. He is the players’ commissioner,” Johnson said in a news conference after Silver’s. “There will be zero tolerance for institutional racism, no matter how rich or powerful.”
At Johnson’s news conference, Roger Mason Jr., first vice president of the National Basketball Players Association, said the players were ready to discuss a boycott of games if Silver had not barred Sterling.
Sterling’s remarks were believed to be recorded by a woman identified as V. Stiviano, who has regularly been seen with him. In the recording, he asks her not to associate with black people and not to bring black people to Clippers games, and he criticizes her for posing for photographs with black men, including Magic Johnson.
“Don’t put him on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me,” Sterling said in the recording. “And don’t bring him to my games. Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to promo, broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”
Before the penalties were handed down, Michael Jordan, a Hall of Fame player and an owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, said in a statement, “There is no room in the NBA — or anywhere else — for this kind of racism and hatred.”
About 75 percent of the league’s players are black.
Sterling’s time as owner of the Clippers has been marked by player unrest, accusations of racism and sexism, and until the team began winning consistently three years ago, incompetent basketball management.
In his primary business, real estate, he was sued by the Justice Department in 2009 for driving minority families out of the apartment buildings he owned or refusing to rent to them. He paid a $2.725 million settlement.
He was sued by his former general manager, Elgin Baylor, for age and race discrimination in 2009. In the suit, Baylor said that Sterling had a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude” in negotiations with players and that his management was “a Southern plantation-type structure.” Baylor also quoted Sterling as saying, in contract negotiations with Danny Manning, “I’m offering you a lot of money for a poor black kid.” A jury sided with Sterling in 2011.
Mike Dunleavy also sued the team in 2010 for refusing to pay the balance of his contract after he was fired as coach and general manager. An arbitrator awarded him $13 million.
Sterling’s wife, Rochelle, recently sued Stiviano, seeking to recover $1.8 million in cash, property and cars.
The suits, combined with the Clippers’ long history of losing, had made Sterling and his team a punch line for most of his time as owner.
That tenure began in 1981 when he bought the San Diego Clippers at the encouragement of Jerry Buss, the Lakers’ owner at the time. Sterling had lent financial help, buying some apartment buildings from Buss, when Buss needed money to buy the Los Angeles Lakers and the Forum in 1979. But by 1984 Sterling had made a spectacle of himself by moving his franchise to Los Angeles without league approval.
For that, David Stern, then the NBA commissioner, fined him $25 million. Sterling sued the league for $100 million, prompting Stern to reduce the fine to $6 million.