The NBA banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life and fined him the maximum $US2.5 million ($A2.7 million) on Tuesday for racist comments that sparked a national furore.
Three days after a recording surfaced of Sterling urging his girlfriend not to associate publicly with “black people”, NBA commissioner Adam Silver removed the 80-year-old billionaire and urged owners to start the process of forcing him to sell the team he bought in 1981.
Current and former stars praised Silver’s decisive action only 88 days since replacing 30-year NBA boss David Stern.
“The views expressed by Mr Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful,” Silver said. “That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage.”
Real estate tycoon Sterling cannot attend any NBA games or workouts, appear at any Clippers office or facility or make any business or personnel decisions for the club.
Silver said he would urge NBA owners to strip the team from Sterling. The market value of the team Sterling bought for $US12 million ($A13 million) is expected to approach $US600 million ($A650 million).
“I fully expect to get the support I need from fellow NBA owners to remove him.”
Silver starting the process could be enough to prod Sterling to sell to avoid the risk of not having the Clippers to sell for a huge profit. A lengthy court fight is also possible.
“I spoke to several owners and I have their full support,” Silver said.
In the recording, the man – confirmed to be Sterling – told his much-younger girlfriend that he didn’t want her associating with black people or attending Clippers games with black friends.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to? … the little I ask you is not to promote it … and not to bring them to my games.”
Silver, who described himself as distraught at the comments, had apologised to NBA coaches, players, fans and business partners: “This has been a painful moment for all members of the NBA family.”
“My message to the Clippers’ fans is that the league is far bigger than any one owner,” Silver said. “The players deserve their support. They have just been through an incredibly difficult incident.
The Clippers said they “wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision … Now the healing process begins”. Their website was changed to a black screen with a team logo and white lettering saying, “WE ARE ONE”.
NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, whose photo with Sterling’s girlfriend prompted the owner’s tirade, tweeted: “Former and current NBA players are very happy and satisfied with Commissioner Silver’s ruling … we have a great leader leading our league.”
Miami Heat superstar LeBron James tweeted: “Commissioner Silver thank you for protecting our beautiful and powerful league!! Great leader!! #BiggerThanBasketball #StriveForGreatness.”
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