LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life by the NBA after a league investigation determined it was his voice heard on two racially-charged recordings.
One of the recordings allegedly captured Sterling telling his girlfriend not to bring black people to games.
Commissioner Adam Silver said that the central findings of the investigation identified Sterling's voice on the recordings. Silver described the contents of the recordings as "offensive and harmful."
"I am personally distraught that the views expressed by Mr. Sterling came from within an institution that has historically taken such a leadership role in the matter of race relations," Silver said during a Tuesday afternoon press conference that was carried during special reports on all the major national networks.
Silver announced that Sterling is banned for life from the NBA, meaning that the Clippers owner cannot attend any games or practices, cannot be at the team's facility or participate in team management decisions, and is barred from attending league activities like the Board of Governors meetings. Silver said he did not know whether Sterling will fight the ban.
Sterling was also fined $2.5 million, which Silver said will be donated to organizations that work against discrimination. The recipients of the money will be determined by the NBA and the players' union.
Silver also vowed to try to push Sterling out entirely.
"I will urge the board of governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team," he said.
"This has been a painful moment for all members of the NBA family," Silver said in his conclusion. "We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling's view, they simply have no place in the NBA."
Before listing the penalties levied against Sterling, Silver offered a personal apology to several of the players, leaders and basketball dignitaries who have expressed outrage at the racist rant. The apology explicitly mentioned basketball legend Magic Johnson, who was mentioned in the taped recordings and who publicly blasted Sterling's words.
Johnson responded on Twitter:
Commissioner Silver showed great leadership in banning LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 29, 2014
Most NBA players also seem satisfied with the punishment.
Very happy & satisfied with Commissioner Silver's ruling. @NBA and Commish deserve much respect for acting in a quick and decisive manner.— Tracy McGrady (@Real_T_Mac) April 29, 2014
Thank you Commissioner for protecting our League & what it stands for!— Tyson Chandler (@tysonchandler) April 29, 2014
Some of the owners also expressed agreement with the commissioner's decision.
I agree 100% with Commissioner Silvers findings and the actions taken against Donald Sterling— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) April 29, 2014
I completely support NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s decisive action on the Sterling issue. Great leadership and the league is in good hands.— Paul Allen (@PaulGAllen) April 29, 2014
Denver Nuggets president Josh Kroenke released a statement, saying, "Kroenke Sports & Entertainment and the Denver Nuggets wholeheartedly and emphatically support Commissioner Adam Silver's decision that Donald Sterling be fined and banned for life from any involvement with the National Basketball Association. Mr. Sterling’s words have absolutely no place in our working family or in a global sport that values inclusion, diversity and tolerance of people regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation."
Sterling is alleged to have made racist remarks in a recorded conversation with girlfriend V. Stiviano. The contents of the recording shook the the basketball world and beyond.
Arnold Perl, a prominent labor attorney with Glankler Brown, said he is not privy to the whether the tape is accurate, but the audio tape creates a problem for the NBA that goes beyond legal concerns.
“It’s clear that the NBA determined that Mr. Sterling lost his license to lead," Perl said.
Sterling bought the Clippers in 1981 for $12.5 million when the team played in San Diego. The team went more than 20 years before winning its first playoff series under Sterling’s ownership. But back-to-back Pacific Division titles have fans hoping the Clippers could break through and make the franchise’s first NBA Finals appearance.
In a statement released through the Clippers, Sterling denied the allegations.
"Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings,” according to a portion of the statement released by the team. "It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them."
The audio recording has splintered the Clippers' championship hopes as the team tries to rally around each other.
Players throughout the NBA have been vocal and united in their disgust of the tape. Some have called for Sterling to be removed, while others have taken to different forms of protest.
"Just to hear that comment, I mean, like, it's no place for that, know what I mean?" Memphis Grizzlies star forward Zach Randolph said according to The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. "It just makes you feel a certain type of way, honestly, in how they really look at us and you look at how far the game has come, and for him to feel like that, it's ridiculous and there's no place for it."
Removing Sterling from ownership could create a problem, said Marc Edelman, prominent associate law professor at Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business.
"They run a reasonable risk of challenge," said Edelman, who specializes in sports and antitrust law. Edelman made the comments before Silver’s announcement.
Perl said under California law, both parties must consent to a tape recording for the tape to be admissible in court. The alleged comments also came in a private conversation as opposed to a public interview. Former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott was suspended in 1996 after making a public comment favorable to Adolf Hitler.