The NBA suspended Donald Sterling for life Tuesday and fined the Clippers owner $2.5 million following racist comments Sterling made in a recording leaked to the media over the weekend. NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced the punishments in a press conference in front of hundreds of assembled media members.
In an investigation which included an interview with Sterling and which Silver says is now complete, the NBA concluded that the voice on the recording was indeed Sterling’s.
“The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful,” said Silver. “That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage. Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural, and multi-ethnic league.”
Sterling’s ban from the NBA is effective immediately. He may not attend NBA games or practices or be present at any Clippers facility. He is also barred from making personnel decisions involving the team. Sterling will remain owner of the franchise, but Silver said he is urging the board of governors, made up of NBA owners, to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team.
“I will do everything in my power to ensure that that happens,” said Silver.
Fifteen minutes of audio recordings of Sterling and girlfriend V. Stiviano were obtained and released by TMZ on Saturday. In the clips, Sterling objects to Stiviano bringing black companions to games and posting photos to her Instagram account.
“Your whole life, every day, you could do whatever you want,” says Sterling. “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...and not to bring them to my games.”
Among the photos Stiviano posted were one of herself with former Laker Magic Johnson and one with current Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp.
“I think the fact that you admire [Magic Johnson], I’ve known him well, and he should be admired,” said Sterling. “And I’m just saying that it’s too bad you can’t admire him privately.”
Sterling is still married to wife Rochelle Sterling, though the two have separated. Last month, Rochelle Sterling filed a lawsuit against Stiviano claiming the Clippers owner used the couple’s money to buy Stiviano a Ferrari, two Bentleys and a Range Rover, as well as a $1.8 million duplex and $250,000 in cash. Stiviano herself is of black and Mexican descent.
“You’re supposed to be a delicate white or a delicate Latina girl,” Sterling says on the tape. “Yeah it bothers me a lot that you want to promo broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”
Sterling’s comments drew strong reaction around the league and beyond.
“There is no room in the NBA—or anywhere else—for the kind of racism and hatred that Mr. Sterling allegedly expressed,” said Michael Jordan, former player and current owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats. “I am appalled that this type of ignorance still exists within our country and at the highest levels of our sport.”
President Barack Obama called the remarks “incredibly offensive”, adding
“When people—when ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk. And that’s what happened here.”
Clippers players responded to the initial leaks by turning their uniform warmups inside-out before the last game of their playoff series vs. the Golden State Warriors. Yahoo! Sports reported Tuesday that Clippers coach Doc Rivers would cease working for the team if Sterling remained in control of the franchise, according to sources. Publicly, Rivers has not said whether or not he will return next season.
“I don’t want to answer that question,” Rivers told the media.
Sterling has owned the Clippers for 32 years and 10 months, the longest tenure of any NBA owner. In 2006, Sterling was sued by the Department of Justice for allegedly refusing to rent apartments in Beverly Hills and Koreatown to black people. He paid $2.73 million to settle that suit in 2009, a lawsuit which quoted Sterling as saying, in sworn testimony, “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building,” adding, “Black tenants smell and attract vermin.”
In 2003, in a separate case, Sterling was sued by 19 tenants of a building he owned. The tenants claimed Sterling’s employees refused repairs to black tenants and threatened to evict them. Sterling settled the case out of court. In 2009, former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor sued Sterling for wrongful termination and discrimination on the basis of age and race. Baylor lost the case.
Player reaction to the NBA’s punishment was immediate. From Heat guard Mario Chalmers:
Big ups to Adam Silver. I think this is a very appropriate way to handle this situation. Now it's up to the owners to make him sell.— Mario Chalmers (@mchalmers15) April 29, 2014
Johnson, whom the commissioner personally apologized to during his statement, added:
Former and current NBA players are very happy and satisfied with Commissioner Silver's ruling.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 29, 2014
In response to a question later in the press conference, Silver said he expects to gain the 75 percent of NBA owners needed to vote Sterling out of the league as an owner.Gary Dzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen