The NBA has banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million for racial comments he made to his reported girlfriend. The NBA will immediately begin working to try to force him to sell the team.
"The hateful opinions voiced by that of the man [on the tape] are those of Donald Sterling," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. "… I'm personally distraught the views expressed by Mr. Sterling came from within an institution that has historically taken such a leadership role in matters of race relations."
As part of the ban, Sterling is not allowed "to attend any NBA games or practices, be present at any Clippers office or facility, or participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team." Sterling also will be barred from attending any Board of Governors meetings and participating in any other league activity.
The fine is the maximum the NBA can issue under the NBA constitution, Silver said. Seventy-five percent of the NBA's owners must vote to oust Sterling to force him to sell.
"I fully expect to get the support I need from the other NBA owners to remove him," Silver said.
"Adam has the votes – all of them, I believe," a league source told Yahoo Sports.
Several groups hoping to purchase the Clippers are already stepping forward with a bidding war expected to exceed $1 billion for the franchise, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Among those groups, Magic Johnson and Guggenheim Partners will be front and center in pursuit of the Clippers.
"Magic Johnson knows he's always welcome as an owner in this league," Silver said.
Silver said Sterling admitted the voice on the recordings was his, but Sterling "has not expressed to me directly any other views." Sterling violated league rules, Stern said, through his "expressions of offensive and hurtful views, the impact of which has been widely felt throughout the league."
Members of the players union, including Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash, gathered with Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti and Sacramento mayor and former NBA player Kevin Johnson at Los Angeles' City Hall after Silver's announcement was made.
"The players spoke, acted and they were listened to," said Kevin Johnson, who has been assisting the National Basketball Players Association in its investigation. Kevin Johnson called the sanctions "a defining moment in our history."
"I want to thank the commissioner for bringing down the hammer," Garcetti said.
Sacramento Kings guard Roger Mason, who is part of the union's governing board, said the players had considered boycotting games and will not be satisfied until Sterling is ousted.
The NBA's announcement comes a little more than three days after TMZ released the first audio recording of Sterling telling his reported girlfriend – identified as V. Stiviano – he didn't want her bringing African-Americans to Clippers games. In the recording, he also said he wanted her to remove photos of African-Americans – including one of former Los Angeles Lakers guard and NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson – from social media.
Among the more inflammatory quotes attributed to Sterling:
• "It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?"
• "You can sleep with them. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games."
• "Don't put him [Magic Johnson] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games."
Deadspin later released an extended version of the audio recording in which Sterling tells the woman that blacks are treated "like dogs" in Israel. When reminded that most of the players on the Clippers are black, Sterling goes on to say, "I support them and give them food and clothes and cars and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Do I know that I have – who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners that created the league?"
Clippers players staged their own subtle protest during Sunday's playoff loss to the Warriors by wearing their warm-up shirts inside-out to hide the "Clippers" name. They also wore black socks and wristbands.
Many of Sterling's fellow NBA owners, including Michael Jordan of the Charlotte Bobcats, condemned the comments in recent days. They continued to distance themselves from Sterling after Tuesday's announcement.
"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 owner Joe Lacob said in a statement. "Similarly, we anticipate that the NBA Board of Governors will act promptly to put this chapter behind us."
The controversy ranks as the NBA's greatest since the Tim Donaghy scandal and comes less than three months after Silver replaced David Stern as NBA commissioner. Sterling had been sued multiple times in the past for racial discrimination, including a 2009 case in which he paid $2.7 million to settle allegations his companies targeted and discriminated against blacks, Hispanics and families with children in renting apartments in greater Los Angeles.
Under Stern, the NBA never publicly punished Sterling after the settlements. Silver said the league did not punish Sterling in the past because there was no finding of guilt in the case.
"In meting out this punishment we did not take into account his past behavior," Silver said. "When the board ultimately considers his overall fitness to be an owner in the NBA, they will take into account a lifetime of behavior. "
Yahoo Sports NBA reporter Marc J. Spears contributed to this report.