LOS ANGELES (AP) - Los Angeles Clippers President Andy Roeser is taking an indefinite leave of absence while the NBA restructures the franchise in the wake of owner Donald Sterling’s lifetime ban.
Roeser’s immediate departure was announced Tuesday by the NBA. The league announced plans last week to appoint a CEO to oversee the franchise in Sterling’s absence.
“This will provide an opportunity for a new CEO to begin on a clean slate and for the team to stabilize under difficult circumstances,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life, fined him $2.5 million and urged owners to force him to sell the Clippers a week ago, responding to league-wide outrage over racist comments made by the 80-year-old real-estate mogul.
Sterling is the NBA’s longest-tenured owner after buying the Clippers in 1981. Roeser, one of the Clippers’ alternate governors, is one of the league’s longest-tenured executives, having just completed his 30th season with the team.
The announcement of Roeser’s leave surprised Clippers coach Doc Rivers while he prepared the team for Game 2 of its second-round playoff series in Oklahoma City on Tuesday.
“I knew they were going to bring in a new CEO eventually, but it is (a surprise),” Rivers said. “I just didn’t know about it. I’m glad I didn’t know about it, actually. I think the NBA is doing their job, and we’re just trying to keep this thing together.”
Roeser has been a loyal frontman for Sterling since the franchise’s days in San Diego, and he stood by Sterling during every controversial stretch of the owner’s career. Only radio and television play-by-play announcer Ralph Lawler has worked for the Clippers longer than the 54-year-old Roeser, who became team president in 2007.
But Roeser infuriated many longtime Clippers employees last week after Sterling’s private conversation was made public by TMZ.
While nearly everyone else was reacting with outrage, Roeser released a statement questioning whether the recordings of Sterling were legitimate, while simultaneously apologizing on Sterling’s behalf for sentiments about Magic Johnson on the recordings. Roeser’s statement was sympathetic to Sterling and criticized V. Stiviano, Sterling’s longtime associate and the other voice on the recordings.
Rivers said Roeser’s statement upset many loyal Clippers employees who had been horrified by Sterling’s comments. Rivers held meetings with much of the Clippers’ front-office staff last week while Sterling was ousted, encouraging them to keep working for the franchise.
“I think that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way,” Rivers said. “Andy right away said that was the wrong statement, so he apologized for that, and then we moved on.”
Roeser joined the organization in 1984 from an accounting firm. Two years later, he became executive vice president, overseeing all facets of the team’s business operations. He has been president of the Los Angeles Clippers Foundation since it began in 1994.
He helped bring Rivers to Los Angeles from the Boston Celtics last June, and was part of the acquisition of All-Star guard Chris Paul in 2011. Roeser also oversaw the development and construction of the team’s training facility that opened in 2008.
Rivers is the Clippers’ senior vice president of basketball operations, working alongside executive vice president of player personnel Gary Sacks on the basketball side of the team’s operations.
Rivers didn’t expect Roeser’s absence to affect the Clippers’ playoff run, noting he already had wide latitude to run the team however he wished.
“That’s how they’ve allowed me to work for the most part, anyway,” Rivers said. “Andy, he’s basically allowed me to do what I needed to do. I would have to call him every once in a while on stuff. It’s nothing big in the next couple of weeks that’s going to have to be decided anyway, and I think the league understands that.”
The Clippers overcame the distraction of Sterling’s banishment to outlast Golden State in a seven-game first-round series on Saturday night.
After just one day off, they returned to the court and trounced Oklahoma City 122-105 on the road Monday night in the opener of their Western Conference semifinal series.
AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.
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