Los Angeles Clippers president Andy Roeser is taking "an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately," the NBA announced Tuesday, three days after the league unveiled plans to appoint a new chief executive officer to oversee the franchise following the lifetime ban of owner Donald Sterling.
"This will provide an opportunity for a new CEO to begin on a clean slate and for the team to stabilize under difficult circumstances,” NBA executive vice president of communications Mike Bass said in a league statement.
Those "difficult circumstances" include the league's attempt to terminate Sterling's ownership after his lifetime ban by Commissioner Adam Silver for making racist comments that were captured on tape and published by TMZ and Deadspin. Multiple wealthy folks have expressed an interest in purchasing the franchise, which Sterling has said is not for sale.
An additional element complicating matters amid the league's efforts to terminate Sterling's ownership and force the Clippers' sale: the persisting presence in the ownership group of Rochelle Sterling, the estranged wife of the 80-year-old Sterling. She issued a statement prior to the Clippers' Game 7 win over the Golden State Warriors expressing support for Silver's actions, and reportedly has interest in maintaining control of the franchise. This would likely anger the National Basketball Players Association, whose representatives have been clear in their preference for a non-Sterling-family solution in Los Angeles.
"We're looking for a change in ownership," union vice president Roger Mason Jr. told Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears. "A complete change."
The changes at the top include an indefinite leave for Roeser, who left the accounting firm Ernst & Young to join the Clippers franchise as an executive vice president in 1984, three years after Sterling purchased the club for $12.5 million, and before he moved it from San Diego to Los Angeles. Roeser was promoted to Clippers president — "in charge of all facets of the team and business operations," according to his team bio — three years later.
As one of the longest-tenured executives in the league, and Sterling's long-time right-hand man, Roeser found himself "in an impossible position" in the aftermath of the publication of the audio recordings, as ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne reported:
On the one hand, his job was to serve and counsel his boss. On the other, he knew what his boss had done and said was deplorable. Roeser hired an outside consultant to help craft a statement to respond to the tapes on Saturday. They discussed and weighed three different messages. The first was to cop to everything. Say that Sterling was sick, that he needed help, that he apologized and felt terrible for offending anyone. The second was to dispute the veracity of the tapes, question the motives of the woman on the tapes and why they were released, and argue that what's said on them misrepresents Sterling's true feelings. The third was to say very little except that the team would cooperate with the NBA investigation. Roeser felt the third message was the best option. Sterling did not. They went with defiance, and they stuck Roeser's name on it.
That statement — which began, "We have heard the tape on TMZ. We do not know if it is legitimate or it has been altered." — didn't play well, either publicly or, reportedly, with many Clippers employees. Roeser was initially appointed to run the day-to-day operations of the club following Sterling's ban, but now he, too, finds himself on the outside of the organization looking in.
Head coach Doc Rivers, who also serves as the Clippers' senior vice president of basketball operations, will reportedly continue to work with vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks to run the basketball side of things. From ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi:
"I knew they were going to bring in a new CEO in eventually," Rivers said. "But it does [surprise me]. I'm glad that I didn't know about it, honestly. I think the NBA is doing their job and we're just trying to keep this thing together."
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