The National Basketball Association has banned Los Angeles Clippers owner for life, fined him $2.5 million, and will urge the league’s Board of Governors to force a sale of the team, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced at a Monday news conference.
The lifetime ban will prevent Sterling from attending games and practices, and he will not be allowed to have any role in Clippers’ business operations or player personnel decisions. He will also be banned from NBA Board of Governors meetings and other official NBA gatherings. The $2.5 million fine is the “maximum allowable under the NBA’s constitution,” Silver said. And in order to force Sterling to sell his team — which Silver said the league has the authority to do — will require a three-fourths majority vote from the league’s owners.
The fine and suspension come as a result of the NBA’s investigation into audio recordings on which Sterling made racist remarks about African-Americans, saying that he didn’t want his girlfriend to bring black fans — including Magic Johnson — to games with her.
“The central findings of the investigation are that the man’s voice heard on the recording…is Mr. Sterling, and that the hateful opinions voiced by that man are those of Mr. Sterling,” Silver said. The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful. 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.”
“Mr. Sterling acknowledged that it was his voice on the tape, and he has not expressed to me any other views,” Silver said.
The ruling applies “specifically to Donald Sterling” and not to members of his family, Silver said.
When asked if he thought Sterling would “acquiesce” to Silver’s desire to see him sell the team, the commissioner replied simply, “I have no idea.” He added that he had the full support of other owners, and that owners have the authority to remove Sterling as an owner with a three-fourths majority vote.
Silver said he had talked to players, including Clippers guard and National Basketball Players Association president Chris Paul, about Sterling’s words. The Clippers staged a brief protest before their playoff game against Golden State on Sunday, and there were reports this week that head coach Doc Rivers and at least some players would not return to the team if Sterling remained in ownership. But the powerful voice of players, including Paul and Miami Heat star, gave Silver little choice but to take the strongest steps possible in dealing with Sterling, and that includes a start to the process that will remove Sterling as an NBA owner.
Asked if he had any worry that the NBA’s Board of Governors would support his effort to oust Sterling, Silver replied: “I fully expect to get the support I need.”
There is, however, one area on which to criticize the NBA and its response, even if it has taken direct and forceful action against Sterling. In his remarks, Silver made it clear that the economics of this question played a role — players had shown signs of walking out, fans had talked of boycotts, and sponsors began fleeing the Clippers yesterday. More time lingering without a final decision could have raised those concerns even more.
But the NBA, the media, and the players who made this an issue should have already known Sterling was racist, sexist, and otherwise deplorable, and that should have been a story long before now. Sterling has, as has been well-documented over the last few days, been the subject of housing discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits. He has denied housing opportunities to African-Americans based solely on the fact they are African-American, and he has harassed and sexually exploited women, according to those suits — which Sterling chose to settle. None of that was enough to get the attention of players, the media, or the NBA, even though the consequences of those actions had even greater repercussions for a larger swath of people.
When Inside Edition reporter Lisa Guerrero asked why the NBA hadn’t acted before, Silver responded that he “cannot speak for past reactions,” but that “when the NBA was presented with specific evidence, it acted.” Silver later noted that Sterling settled the housing discrimination and sexual harassment suits, and that the alleged victim — NBA Hall of Famer and former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor — lost the employment discrimination suit.
Sterling’s racism is first and foremost an indictment of Sterling, and Silver should, on some level, be commended for taking strong action now. But as ESPN’s Bomani Jones so eloquently stated yesterday, the transgressions that went unnoticed and the implications of them are even bigger problems than Donald Sterling. And if we let this situation pass now without exploring why it took this long to hold him accountable and how we can address — or at least talk about — the litany of larger problems that Sterling both profited from and perpetuated, we will have accomplished far less from all of this than we could and should have.
Before Silver announced the penalties, Sterling told reporter Jim Gray that the Clippers were “not for sale.” If Silver gets his way, Sterling may not have a choice.