NBA bans Clippers owner Sterling for life

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by Chris Patterson

(CNN) -- Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been banned for life from the NBA and given the maximum fine possible for racist remarks ripped by many inside and outside the world's biggest basketball league.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the lifetime ban and a $2.5 million fine on Tuesday, about eight hours before Sterling's Clippers were to tip off in the fifth game of their tightly contested first-round playoff series with the Golden State Warriors.

The decision -- coming just three days after website TMZ posted audio featuring the incendiary comments, which Silver said that Sterling admitted he made -- was widely applauded by NBA owners, players and others connected to the league.

"I hope that every bigot in this country sees what happened to Mr. Sterling and recognizes that if he can fall, so can you," Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA All-Star who was tasked with leading the NBA players union's efforts on this matter.

Under the lifetime ban, Sterling is prohibited from attending games or practices, stepping foot inside any Clippers' facility, taking part in business or personnel decisions, or having a role in league activities such as attending NBA Board of Governors meetings.

Silver insisted that he will do "everything in my power" to compel the NBA Board of Governors to "force a sale" of the Clippers. The commissioner said "I fully expect" to get the needed three-quarters of the league's owners -- meaning at least 23 -- to back the move.

If Sterling does sell the team, he stands to profit considerably: He bought the Clippers for $12 million in 1981, and the team is now worth $575 million, according to Forbes magazine.

Silver, who succeeded the NBA's longtime leader, David Stern, in February, called the comments that provoked this action "deeply offensive and harmful; that they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage."

"Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural and multi-ethnic league," Silver said.

Clippers: 'Now the healing process begins'

The inflammatory sentiments he was referring to came packaged in a 10-minute recording that TMZ said occurred during an April 9 conversation between Sterling and girlfriend V. Stiviano.

On the recording, a man and woman argue about photos posted to Instagram in which she appears with African-Americans. The man says he doesn't want the woman bringing any black people to games with her.

The sports website Deadspin on Sunday posted five additional minutes of what it said was part of the same audio recording.

Neither website has said how it obtained the recordings; Stiviano's lawyer's office said Sunday that she didn't release them to TMZ, while stating they are legitimate.

On Saturday, Clippers President Andy Roeser suggested the audio was aimed at "getting even" with Sterling over a lawsuit.

Rochelle Sterling filed a lawsuit last month against Stiviano, who she said was having an affair with her husband and accusing Stiviano of going after extremely wealthy older men.

Roeser said that the offensive comments are "not consistent with, nor does it reflect (Sterling's) views, beliefs or feelings." Moreover, he cast doubt as to whether Sterling had made them, stating: "We do not know if it is legitimate or it has been altered."

Silver expressed no such doubts Tuesday, saying the Clippers owner "acknowledged it was his voice on the tape." Asked whether the owner expressed any remorse, the commissioner said, "Mr. Sterling has not expressed those views directly to me."

Moments after Silver's press conference concluded, the Clippers struck a different tone than their initial statement.

"We wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision by the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver today," the team said. "Now the healing process begins."

Silver says he shares sponsors' 'outrage'

There is no question that Sterling rightfully owns the Clippers. Some observers questioned how comments, made privately, could serve as grounds for such punishment, including possibly forcing him to sell the team?

Silver said Tuesday he'd "let the lawyers" address specifics, while stating flatly, "We have the authority to act as I've recommended."

A lifetime ban of an owner is unprecedented in the NBA, but not pro sports. In the 1990s, Major League Baseball repeatedly suspended Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott over racist and other controversial comments, and she ultimately sold the franchise.

In this case, Sterling had no real public support but drew a heaping of condemnation from within the NBA and outside of it.

Players past and present spoke out to demand action.

Members of Sterling's own team, the Clippers, debated boycotting their playoff game Saturday with the Warriors, according to coach Doc Rivers. They decided against it, instead opting to stage a silent protest by removing their warmup shirts bearing team logos to reveal red T-shirts worn inside out, with the logos hidden.

Silver said he talked to Rivers, Clippers star point guard Chris Paul (who is also the players union president) and other players prior to reaching his decision Tuesday morning.

Dollars talked, too, to ramp up the pressure for Silver to act.

Golden State coach Mark Jackson said Monday that fans should make a statement by staying home. And over a dozen companies -- including State Farm, Virgin America, CarMax, Red Bull and Adidas -- halted their sponsorships, at least temporarily, with the Clippers over the remarks, CNN Money reported.

Speaking Tuesday, the commissioner said he shares these companies "outrage," adding "it will take some time" to get things right.

"I can understand how upset they are, and I'll do my best to bring them back into the NBA family," Silver said.

Magic Johnson: Players are 'very happy and satisfied'

One man thrust into the controversy -- seemingly out of the blue -- was NBA great Magic Johnson. In the TMZ recording, the man seems mad about a photo the woman posted to Instagram with Johnson.

"In your lousy f**ing Instagrams, you don't have to have yourself with -- walking with black people," the man says.

"If it's white people, it's OK?" she responds. "If it was Larry Bird, would it make a difference?"

Bird was Johnson's chief rival when Bird's Boston Celtics and Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers ruled the NBA.

"I've known (Magic Johnson) well, and he should be admired. ... I'm just saying that it's too bad you can't admire him privately," the man on the recording says. "Admire him, bring him here, feed him, f**k him, but don't put (Magic) on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games."

After the audio went public, Johnson -- who, since retiring from basketball is now a successful businessman and part owner of baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers -- expressed dismay and insisted he'd never attend a Clippers game so long as Sterling was the owner.

Johnson offered a very different tune Tuesday, commending Silver for exhibiting "great leadership" in saying he and others "are very happy and satisfied."

"I wish I was in LA, I would be at the Clipper game tonight!" he tweeted.

CNN's Greg Botelho, Paul Vercammen, Caleb Silver, Stephanie Elam, Ralph Ellis, AnneClaire Stapleton, Joe Sutton, Wayne Sterling and Kevin Dotson contributed to this report.

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