The National Basketball Association on Tuesday banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the game for life for racist comments that outraged players, fans 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 announced at a news conference in New York. Sterling was also fined $2.5 million, Silver said.
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.”
An investigation into the recording concluded the voice was Sterling’s, Silver told reporters.
“The man whose voice is heard on the recording and on a second recording from the same conversation that was released on Sunday is Mr. Sterling,” said Silver, who is confronting his first major crisis since he was named commissioner in February. “The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful.”
Sterling’s comments caused 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.”
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.
Silver said he would call on the owners to vote to force Sterling to sell the team. Such a move would require approval of three-quarters of the current owners.
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. The same voice is heard telling the woman not to post photos of herself with Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the former Los Angeles Laker. “And don’t bring him to my games, OK?”
On Tuesday, Johnson praised the NBA decision on Twitter, saying, “Commissioner Silver showed great leadership in banning LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life.”
The league acted one day after a series of team 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 TWX.N, and the local airing on a sports channel owned by 21st Century Fox FOXA.O, 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 Robert Boland, chairman of the sports management department at New York University.
Sterling is a property owner 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.
Scott Malone and Larry Fine