Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

NBA lifetime ban for Clippers owner Sterling over alleged comments on race

Commissioner Adam Silver calls comments 'deeply offensive' and 'harmful,' saying that he will try to force sale of team

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver moved Tuesday to ban Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life following what he characterized as "deeply offensive" and "harmful" comments heard in audio recordings released over the weekend that prompted outrage from the sports community and beyond. Silver said he would also seek to force Sterling — who Silver said admitted to speaking on the recordings — to sell the team, a move that would have to be approved by three-fourths of the league's 29 other owners. 

"Effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers association or with the NBA," Silver said at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.   

The ban will also mean that Sterling will not be able to attend NBA games or practices, may not enter any Clippers facilities and may not participate in business or personnel player transactions, Silver said. Sterling will also be barred from attending NBA Board of Governors meetings or participating in any other league activities. 

"This has been a painful moment for all members of the NBA family," Silver said. "We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views. They simply have no place in the NBA." 

The commissioner made clear that while more action was still needed to remove Sterling as owner of the Clippers, the lifetime ban was "independent of forcing the sale of the team." 

"I will urge the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team and will do everything in my power to ensure that happens," Silver said, adding that he had the "full support" of the owners. 

Sterling, who is worth an estimated $1.9 billion, according to Forbes, will also be fined $2.5 million by Silver, who said it was the maximum amount allowed under the NBA constitution. That money will be donated to organizations focused on anti-discrimination causes, Silver said. 

After the announcement, the Clippers' website featured only a simple message: "We are one." 

And as the Clippers prepared to play the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday evening at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, their Southern California fans remained loyal to the team, if not Sterling.

Dean Conklin and his wife, Jessie, drove from San Bernardino to see the game because they're die-hard fans. They never considered boycotting the Clippers. 

"I was going to support my team no matter what," Jessie said.

Dean, a respiratory therapist, expected the mood to be festive. "Everybody's going to be backing the players," he said. 

The controversy prompted Norman Mark and a friend to print $15 T-shirts with an up-to-date message: "I (heart) My LA CLIPPERS" on the front with "F--- THE OWNER" on the back.

"I was thinking of boycotting because that money (off the Clippers) is going to his pocket," said Mark, "but it's basketball."

Before the game, police cruisers circled the entertainment complex in case of trouble, and some people held signs that read "No Time For Racism."

During the playoff game, the team's announcers and fans repeated the "We are one" mantra as the Clippers defeated the Golden State Warriors 113-103.

Silver had promised swift action following the release of the audio tapes, which surfaced on the entertainment site TMZ and sports website DeadSpin over the weekend. The recordings featured a man, determined to be Sterling, and a woman, identified as Sterling's former girlfriend, having a conversation in which Sterling tells the woman that he didn't want her to "bring black people" to his games. 

Furthermore, when confronted by the woman about the fact that he owns a team featuring predominantly black players, Sterling says: "I support them and give them food and clothes and cars and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them?"

As for any recourse that Sterling could have, sports attorney Domenic Romano told Al Jazeera's Thomas Drayton Tuesday that he could invoke state or federal antitrust law, but added, "I can't imagine that he would want to stay [in the league] under such circumstances." 

Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento, Calif., who also served as a special adviser to the NBA Players Association for the Sterling case, reacted to the news of the Sterling ban by declaring, "the players spoke, they acted and they were listened to." 

"On this day, Adam Silver is not only the owners' commissioner, he is also the players' commissioner, and we're proud to call him our commissioner," Johnson said.

Players and owners quickly reacted on social media, including Miami Heat star LeBron James who tweeted, "Commissioner Silver thank you for protecting our beautiful and powerful league!! Great leader!!" 

The crisis was seen as the first major test for Silver, who took over as NBA commissioner in February, succeeding David Stern.

The comments from Sterling almost immediately evoked anger and outrage in a league whose players are majority black. 

On Monday, companies that had sponsorship deals with the Clippers, including Virgin America, State Farm and Kia Motors America, spurned the organization, opting to either suspend or terminate their relationship with the team.

In his remarks on Tuesday after Silver's decision, Johnson also spoke more generally about racism in the United States, saying that he hopes the reaction to Sterling's comments will serve as a lesson for others. 

"These events remind all of us that hatred and bigotry are far from over," he said. "I hope that every bigot in this country sees what happened to Mr. Sterling and recognizes that if he can fall, so can you." 

Haya El Nasser contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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