NBA bans LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life over racist comments

The National Basketball Association on Tuesday imposed a lifetime ban on Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, delivering an unexpectedly robust set of sanctions for racist comments that may also compel the real estate billionaire to sell his team.

The NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, said at a news conference in New York that an inquiry had established that Sterling expressed the remarks heard on a leaked recording, which were “contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural and multi-ethnic league”.

Silver said that the 80-year-old billionaire would also be fined $2.5m, the maximum allowed under the NBA's unpublished constitution, and that he would now press the NBA's governing body of other team owners to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.

The sanctions against Sterling, which appeared to be the most punitive available to the NBA, were greeted with jubilation by prominent players, some of whom had characterised the issue as a defining moment for the league, 70% of whose players are black but whose team owners are overwhelmingly white.

The row was also a personal test of will for Silver, who has only been in his post for three months, and who appears to have resolved on Tuesday to take an uncompromising stand against Sterling. “The views expressed by Mr Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful,” said Silver, in a strongly worded statement delivered from the podium at NBA headquarters in New York. “That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage.”

Silver acknowledged the particular sensitivity of Sterling's comments within the NBA.“I am personally distraught that the views expressed by Mr Sterling came from within an institution that has historically taken such a leadership role in matters of race relations.”

Announcing the lifetime ban, Sterling had acknowledged during an interview with NBA investigators that he had made the remarks about black people heard on a recording released last Friday. The ban means that Sterling can have nothing more to do with the NBA or the Clippers organisation, and may not attend any Clippers games, practices and official functions on behalf of the team. He is barred from participating in any business, staff or player decisions.

Silver said that he would also do everything in his power to force Sterling to sell the Clippers. Doing so would require approval by a vote of three quarters of NBA owners, the commissioner said. Silver said he “fully expected” to receive enough support from fellow NBA governors to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.

The $2.5m penalty, which is only a fraction of Sterling’s reported $1.9bn fortune, is to be donated to organisations dedicated to tackling discrimination and intolerance, Silver said.

A statement released by the LA Clippers said the team “wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision” announced by Sterling. They added: “Now the healing process begins.” Visitors to the team’s website were directed to a page stating simply: “We are one”.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the former NBA star who was the subject of some of Sterling’s remarks, said on Twitter: “Commissioner Silver showed great leadership in banning LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life.”

The real estate mogul’s punishment was announced almost four days after he was heard on a recording released by TMZ telling his mistress, V Stiviano, to stop bringing black guests to Clippers games. He also complained that Stiviano, who frequently accompanies him at the Staples Center, was posing with black people in photographs posted to her Instagram account.

The remarks provoked a furious response from players and owners of other teams. Leslie Alexander, the owner of the Houston Rockets, said that NBA authorities needed to do “whatever it takes” to stamp out such views. The Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert urged Silver to take a “zero tolerance approach”.

Even President Barack Obama was drawn into the row, describing the remarks during his visit to Malaysia over the weekend as “incredibly offensive”.

A series of major corporate sponsors involved with the Clippers announced over the weekend that they were breaking their associations with the team. Silver said on Tuesday: “This has been a painful moment for all in the NBA family. I appreciate the support and understanding of our players during this process.”

Kevin Johnson, the former NBA star, mayor of Sacramento and an adviser to the National Basketball Players Association, said Sterling’s punishment should serve as a warning to "every bigot in this country".

"It doesn't matter if you are a professional basketball player worth millions of dollars, or a man or woman who works hard for their family," Johnson said at a press conference. "There will be zero tolerance for institutional racism, no matter how rich or powerful."

Johnson had said earlier on Tuesday that the players’ union urged Silver to inflict “the most severe sanctions possible” on Sterling.

Eric Garcetti, the Los Angeles, mayor, also praised Silver’s announcement. "Those are exactly the sorts of strong statements we need to stand up against these hateful comments," Garcetti told CNN.

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