In an unprecedented move for the league, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from NBA activities for life, charged him the maximum fine of $2.5 million and will urge the NBA Board of Governors to force Sterling to sell his team. The punishment comes in response to an audio tape that surfaced Friday of Sterling making racist comments to his girlfriend, V. Stiviano.
At press conference announcing the punishment Tuesday, Silver said the NBA confirmed Sterling’s voice on the tape, and called his comments “contrary to principles of conclusion and respect that are the foundation of our diverse, multicultural and multiethnic league.”
It is the largest punishment placed by the NBA commissioner on an owner: suspensions levied on owners in the past have been for finite periods of times, and when dealing with inappropriate comments made by owners, the league typically punished them with fines. Its closest comparison may be in the baseball world, where Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott was twice suspended for racist, sexist and anti-Semitic comments in the 1990s.
Since TMZ posted the Sterling tape, it had attracted condemnation not just from members of the basketball community, but from politicians, civil rights activists and celebrities. The National Basketball Players' Union – represented by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, as its president is Clippers player Chris Paul – had asked the NBA commissioner to seek the maximum punishment available per the NBA constitution. However the constitution is not available to the public, so it was unclear to what extent Silver was contractually allowed to punish Sterling.
Silver’s decision will likely ruffle the feathers of Sterling’s fellow franchise owners – who as commissioner he technically represents – even as many have publicly denounced Sterling’s remarks.
Before the announcement Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban – who has been fined before for comments he has made concerning the NBA – called Sterling's views “abhorrent,” but stopped short of saying he should be pushed out of the league.
“If it’s about racism and we’re ready to kick people out of the league, OK? Then what about homophobia? What about somebody who doesn’t like a particular religion. What about somebody who’s anti-semitic; what about a xenophobe?,” Cuban said, according to The Dallas Morning News. “In this country, people are allowed to be morons.”
At Tuesday’s press conference, Silver said he had spoken to many of the team owners and had the full support of the owners in his decision.
The Clippers are scheduled to face off against the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of their tied playoff series Tuesday night.