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NEW YORK — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver delivered the swiftest, strongest penalty he could, then called on NBA owners to force Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell the team for making racist comments that hurt the league.
Almost unanimously, owners supported the commissioner Tuesday as he handed down one of the harshest penalties in the history of U.S. sports.
“We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views. They simply have no place in the NBA,” Mr. Silver said at a news conference.
Mr. Sterling, 80, is banned for life from any association with the league or the Clippers, and fined $2.5 million — the maximum allowable under the NBA constitution. If three-fourths of the other 29 owners agree to Mr. Silver’s recommendation, Mr. Sterling would be forced to sell the team he has owned since 1981.
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Players and others cheered Mr. Silver’s quick action, with union officials saying that if the league’s punishment hadn’t included a mandate for Mr. Sterling to sell the team, players were considering boycotting playoff games, including Tuesday’s Golden State Warriors-Clippers matchup, the team’s first home game since the scandal erupted.
“We wanted to be a part of this decision, and we wanted Adam Silver to know where we stood. And we were very clear that anything other than Sterling selling his team was not going to be enough for us,” said Roger Mason, Jr., the first vice president of the players’ union.
Mr. Sterling’s comments — which were recorded by his 31-year-old girlfriend and released by TMZ on Saturday — harmed the league, Mr. Silver said. Sponsors were threatening to abandon the NBA, and criticism came from fans on social media and even the White House.
Mr. Sterling criticized V. Stiviano — purportedly the female voice on the tapes — for posting pictures of her with black athletes Magic Johnson and Matt Kemp.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” Mr. Sterling asks on the tape.
“Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural, and multiethnic league,” Mr. Silver said.
The NBA’s longest-tenured owner keeps his team for now, and Mr. Silver said he didn’t know whether Mr. Sterling would fight to do so permanently.
But he can’t attend games or practices, can’t be involved in any personnel decisions, or participate in board of governors meetings.
Before the announcement, Mr. Silver said, he discussed the decision with coach Doc Rivers and guard Chris Paul of the Clippers. “I believe the players will be satisfied with the decision,” Mr. Silver said.
Just three days after the scandal broke, and hours before the Clippers hosted their biggest game of the season, Mr. Silver apologized to some of the league’s black pioneers while meting out a punishment he believed would satisfy outraged players and fans.
Mr. Silver said the ban applied only to Mr. Sterling and there had been no talks about whether he could sell to a family member.
Many owners supported Mr. Silver, and none publicly defended Mr. Sterling.
“We applaud the firm punishment handed out today by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and appreciate the swiftness with which the NBA conducted its investigation,” Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob said.
Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, said, however, that the league had to tread carefully on owners’ rights.
“What Donald said was wrong,” Mr. Cuban told reporters Tuesday. “It was abhorrent. There’s no place for racism in the NBA, any business I’m associated with, and I don’t want to be associated with people who have that position. But at the same time that’s a decision I make. I think you’ve got to be very, very careful when you start making blanket statements about what people say and think, as opposed to what they do. It’s a very, very slippery slope.”
The fine will be donated to organizations dedicated to anti-discrimination and tolerance efforts, Mr. Silver said.
Mr. Sterling, with an estimated net worth of about $2 billion, did not comment, though Mr. Silver said he did not apologize and confirmed that he was the person on the tapes.
Mr. Silver, not even on the job three months, already had to face a crisis that threatened the league not only financially — with several companies ending or suspending their sponsorships of the Clippers — but more importantly, socially.
The NBA survived the Indiana Pacers’ brawl with Detroit Pistons fans, and referee Tim Donaghy betting on games he officiated. But this brought a different level of outrage, particularly because Mr. Sterling has faced federal charges of civil rights violations and racial discrimination in his business dealings.
“... I am hopeful there will be no long-term damage to the league and to the Clippers organization,” Mr. Silver said.
After the announcement, the Clippers’ Web site had a simple message: “We are one.”
“We wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision by the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver today. Now the healing process begins,” the Clippers added in a statement.
Mr. Sterling’s Clippers is led by Doc Rivers, a black coach whom Mr. Sterling paid $7 million a year.