Donald Sterling banned for life by the NBA for "deeply disturbing" comments

Last Updated Apr 30, 2014 1:52 AM EDT

NEW YORK -- Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been banned for life by the NBA in response to racist comments the league says he made in a recorded conversation.

Commissioner Adam Silver said he would call on the owners to vote to force Sterling to sell the team, which would require approval of three-quarters of the current owners. Sterling has also been fined $2.5 million, and Silver made no effort to hide his outrage over the comments, calling them "deeply disturbing and harmful."

"I fully expect to get the support I need from the other NBA owners to remove him," Silver said.
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Team owner Donald Sterling (2nd left) of the Los Angeles Clippers and V. Stiviano watch the San Antonio Spurs play against the Memphis Grizzlies during Game One of the Western Conference Finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 19, 2013 in San Antonio, Texas.
Ronald Martinez, Getty Images
The rebuke, which came three days after the scandal broke, is the harshest penalty ever issued by the league and one of the stiffest punishments ever given to an owner in professional sports. Silver said a league investigation found the NBA's longest-tenured owner was in fact the person on the audiotapes that were released over the weekend.

"We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling's views," Silver said. "They simply have no place in the NBA."

Sterling, the league's longest-tenured owner and someone with an estimated net worth of about $2 billion, did not offer any immediate comment. Sterling acknowledged he was the man on the tape, Silver said.

Sterling is immediately barred from attending any NBA games or practices, be present at any Clippers office or facility, or participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team.

He also cannot participate in any league business going forward. It's unclear how he will respond, and a lawsuit certainly seems possible.

"This league is far bigger than any one owner, any one coach and any one player," Silver said.


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 released to the media.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said later that Silver's decision "was the right one that had to be made."

"I don't think this is something that we rejoice in or anything like that. I told the players about the decision, and I think they were just happy there was a resolution and that it's over, at least the start of it. I think we're all in a better place because of this," Rivers said.

Sterling's comments were released over the weekend by TMZ and Deadspin, and the fallout has been swift: current and former NBA players have publicly denounced Sterling, the NAACP is returning donations he has made and canceled a planned award ceremony next month and sponsors have fled.

In the audio recording obtained by TMZ, a man alleged to be Sterling questions his girlfriend's association with minorities.

"You can sleep with (black people). You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want," the man says on the tape. "The little I ask you is ... not to bring them to my games."

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," 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."

Miami Heat star LeBron James wrote on Twitter: "Commissioner Silver thank you for protecting our beautiful and powerful league!! Great leader!!"

Before Silver took the podium, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban tweeted out a photo of the NBA Constitution, saying "It exists for a reason." Cuban later tweeted: "I agree 100% with Commissioner Silvers findings and the actions taken against Donald Sterling."

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.

Paul, the Clippers' All-Star point guard and the president of the players' union, issued a brief statement before leading Los Angeles against the Warriors.

"In response to today's ruling by the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver, my teammates and I are in agreement with his decision," Paul said. "We appreciate the strong leadership from Commissioner Silver and he has our full support."

Paul then had 20 points, seven assists and six rebounds as the Clippers won Game 5 and moved within one victory of just the franchise's third playoff series victory since Sterling bought the team nearly 33 years ago.

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.

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.

In modern professional sports, there is only one precedent for forcing an owner to sell their team for incendiary commentary: Marge Schott, who owned baseball's Cincinnati Reds from 1986 to 1999.

"They could try to force the owner to sell the team, but they'd have huge legal hurdles," CBS News legal analyst Jack Ford told "CBS This Morning." "It'd be tough to go into a court of law and say we're going to force him to give up his property, what he owns, because of his comments."

CBSSports.com's Ken Berger reports there are few parallels between what happened with Schott and what is happening with Sterling.

Schott was only forced to sell "after years of pressure from baseball and fellow owners, and only after General Motors accused her of falsifying car sales with the names of team employees at a Chevrolet dealership she had since sold. Even then, Schott reaped the financial benefit of the sale and retained one ownership share as well as 21 box seats and a luxury suite, according to this story from the Cincinnati Enquirer," Berger wrote.

The league's owners are wary of forcing Sterling to sell his team, even if it would bring him a financial windfall. The league took over the New Orleans Hornets from previous owner George Shinn, but that was because of financial difficulties. The Clippers are a profitable team and Sterling is worth a reported $1.9 billion, so money is not an issue in this case. Plus, taking such measures would almost assuredly bring a lawsuit from Sterling and a long, expensive legal fight.





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