NEW YORK (AP) - NBA Commissioner Adam Silver delivered the swiftest, strongest penalty he could, then called on NBA owners to force Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell the team for making racist comments that hurt the league.
Almost unanimously, owners supported the commissioner Tuesday as he handed down one of the harshest penalties in the history of U.S. sports.
Sterling, 80, is banned for life from any association with the league or the Clippers, and was fined $2.5 million - the maximum allowable under the NBA constitution. If three-fourths of the other 29 owners agree to Silver’s recommendation, Sterling will be forced to sell the team he has owned since 1981.
A message left seeking comment at Sterling’s business office hadn’t been returned Tuesday afternoon. Team spokesman Seth Burton said in an email that the Clippers had no plans to issue a statement from Sterling on Tuesday, but the franchise released a statement “wholeheartedly” supporting Silver’s decision.
After the announcement, the Clippers‘ website featured only a simple message: “We are one.” The mantra was repeated by the team’s public-address announcers and chanted by their fans several times during their playoff game Tuesday night, a cathartic 113-103 victory over the Golden State Warriors.
Players and civil rights leaders alike cheered Silver’s quick action. Players’ union officials said that if the league’s punishment hadn’t included a mandate for Sterling to sell the team, players were considering boycotting playoff games, including Tuesday’s matchup with Golden State in the team’s first home game since the scandal erupted.
“We wanted to be a part of this decision, and we wanted Adam Silver to know where we stood. And we were very clear that anything other than Sterling selling his team was not going to be enough for us,” said Roger Mason Jr., the first vice president of the players’ union.
The Clippers received raucous cheers when they took the court for warmups before Game 5. Two days earlier, they dumped their team warmup jerseys in a pile at center court in Oakland in a gesture of defiance against their owner before losing Game 4 of the series.
“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.
Sterling’s comments - which were recorded by his girlfriend and released by TMZ on Saturday - harmed the league, Silver said. Sponsors were threatening to abandon the NBA, and criticism was coming from fans on social media and even the White House.
Sterling criticized V. Stiviano - purportedly the female voice on the recording - for posting pictures of herself with black athletes Magic Johnson and Matt Kemp.
“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 recording.