National Basketball Association (NBA) commissioner Adam Silver banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life on Tuesday, in a decisive move following a league investigation into racist comments allegedly made by the 80-year-old.
Sterling was also fined US$2.5 million by the league, the maximum amount allowed under the NBA constitution, which governs ownership of teams. Silver, facing his first major test since taking over from David Stern as commissioner, added that he intends to urge other NBA owners to 'exercise authority to force a sale of the team'. It is understood that Silver requires three-quarters of the league's owners to force through such a move, which would be unprecedented in NBA history.
Silver, speaking at a press conference in New York on Tuesday, said: "The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful. We stand together in condeming Mr. Sterling's views. They simply have no place in the NBA."
He added: "I fully expect to get the support I need to remove him."
Real estate owner Sterling, who has a past littered with controversy, acquired the Clippers in 1981 for US$12.5 million and, for the moment at least, is the the longest-serving NBA team owner.
The current furore began on Friday when notorious celebrity news website TMZ posted what purported to be a conversation between Sterling and a woman, widely reported to be his 31-year-old girlfriend Vanessa Stiviano. Sterling was apparently heard telling the woman not to bring black people to Clippers games, and to refrain from publicising her interaction with black people.
By way of protest, Clippers players downed their team-branded training outfits on Sunday ahead of their play-off game against Golden State Warriors, warming up in shirts which were turned inside out to obscure the logo. At the NBA's behest, Sterling was not present for the game.
On Monday, 12 of the Los Angeles Clippers' corporate partners terminated or suspended their sponsorship of the National Basketball Association (NBA) team, as the fallout from the alleged racist remarks made by team owner Donald Sterling showed no sign of abating.
The southern Californian Mercedes-Benz dealership, a major Clippers partner, said it was ending its sponsorship of the team, as did CarMax, Virgin America and Chumash Casino Resort.
On a dramatic day of domino-like announcements, Aquahydrate, Corona, Kia, Lumber Liquidators, Red Bull, Sprint, State Farm and tyre manufacturer Yokohama all announced immediate suspensions of deals with the franchise.
A State Farm statement read: 'The remarks attributed to the Clippers' owner are offensive. While those involved sort out the facts, we will be taking a pause in our relationship with the organisation. We are monitoring the situation and we’ll continually assess our options.'
Other statements followed in a similar vein. Kia Motors said Sterling's comments were 'offensive and reprehensible', CarMax described them as 'completely unacceptable', while Mercedes-Benz's local dealership referred to them as 'deplorable'.
The NBA's Silver launched an immediate inquiry into the validity of the conversation, amidst near-blanket condemnation of Sterling's alleged comments from players, owners and other league stakeholders. The termination and suspension of sponsorship deals on Monday only added to the pressure on Silver to sanction Sterling strongly in what was the first major test of his short commissionership to date.
Following his announcement on Tuesday, the front page of the Clippers' website was changed to a team logo and the simple words 'We Are One'.