Silver Comes Down Hard on Sterling

The NBA has handed down their punishment: Donald Sterling is banned for life, fined $2.5 million and forced to sell the Clippers.

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has banned Donald Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers or the NBA, it was announced today at a press conference in Manhattan.

Commissioner Silver has also fined Mr. Sterling $2.5 million, the maximum amount allowed under the NBA Constitution.  The fine money will be donated to organizations dedicated to anti-discrimination and tolerance efforts that will be jointly selected by the NBA and the Players Association.

As part of the lifetime ban, Mr. Sterling may not 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.  He will also be barred from attending NBA Board of Governors meetings and participating in any other league activity.

Commissioner Silver also announced that he will urge the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team.

The discipline issued today is based on the Commissioner’s conclusion that Mr. Sterling violated league rules through his expressions of offensive and hurtful views, the impact of which has been widely felt throughout the league.

Silver released the following letter to fans:

Dear Fans,

This afternoon I announced that, following the completion of a thorough investigation into an audio recording obtained by TMZ, I banned Donald Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers or the NBA, effective immediately. Mr. Sterling may not 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. I also fined Mr. Sterling $2.5 million, the maximum amount allowed under the NBA Constitution. These funds will be donated to charitable organizations dedicated to anti-discrimination and tolerance efforts that will be jointly selected by the NBA and its Players Association.

The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and hurtful. I am extremely proud of this great league’s diverse, respectful and inclusive culture, and we will not allow one individual’s intolerant views to define us. Let me be clear: Mr. Sterling’s views have no place in the NBA.

This has been a painful episode for all members of the NBA family. I very much appreciate your understanding during this process. I also want to express my thanks and admiration to Coach Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, and the entire Clippers organization for their professionalism throughout this matter, and to Chris and Mayor Kevin Johnson for their leadership and partnership on behalf of the Players Association.

And now I am eager to turn the spotlight back where it belongs: on the game we all love and on these thrilling playoffs, which have been some of the most exciting basketball I’ve seen in my 22 years with the league. I hope you enjoy the rest of the playoffs and The Finals.


Adam Silver

Here is a transcript of his press conference:

Q.  Do you or any of your emissaries have any clue as to whether Mr. Sterling will acquiesce to your wishes to sell the team, or do you expect a fight?

ADAM SILVER:  I have no idea.

Q.  From polling the owners that you’ve spoken to, what support do you think you have to force Mr. Sterling to sell the team?

ADAM SILVER:  I didn’t poll the owners.  I spoke to several owners, and I have their full support.

Q.  What kind of authority do they have to force a sale?

ADAM SILVER:  The owners have the authority subject to three quarters vote of the ownership group, of the partners, to remove him as an owner.

Q.  The word you used specifically was outrage.  You said that you were personally outraged, yet many people believe that they are outraged that for years people have known that this man is a racist slumlord and the NBA hasn’t done anything until today.  Can you please answer why.

ADAM SILVER:  I can’t speak to past actions other than to say that when specific evidence was brought to the NBA, we acted.

Q.  Should someone lose their team for remarks shared in private as this is a slippery slope?

ADAM SILVER:  Whether or not these remarks were initially shared in private, they are now public, and they represent his views.

Q.  What was the process to coming to this decision over the last couple days, and when did you decide that this was the appropriate action to take?

ADAM SILVER:  I ultimately decided this morning that this was the appropriate action, and the process beginning Saturday morning when this tape was first released was to appoint an investigator.  It was David Anders from the Wachtell Lipton firm.  He conducted a series of interviews, some by phone, some in person.  He concluded his investigation late last night.

Q.  Adam, you said you would encourage owners to force the sale of the Clippers.  When will that action take place?

ADAM SILVER:  The process will begin immediately.  We will most likely use a standing committee of the NBA.  The equivalent of our executive committee is our advisory finance committee.  I’ve had several discussions with Glen Taylor, who is our chairman of the board and also the leader of the advisory finance committee, and we will begin that process immediately.

Q.  In your conversations with Sterling, did he own up to this immediately?  Was it only after you guys had come up with some sort of proof?  And what, if anything, has he expressed approaching remorse, regret, anything?  What’s his sentiment at this point?

ADAM SILVER:  Mr. Sterling acknowledged it was his voice on the tape, and he has not expressed to me directly any other views.

Q.  What message do you have for the Clippers and their fans and their fan base in terms of moving forward from this point on?

ADAM SILVER:  My message to the Clippers fans is this league is far bigger than any one owner, any one coach, any one player.  This institution has been around for a long time, and it will stand for a long time, and I have complete confidence in Doc Rivers, in the basketball management of that club, and the players deserve their support.  They’ve just been through an incredibly difficult incident in their lives.

Q.  Was the punishment designed in effect to get the message across to Mr. Sterling that there’s no point in him    there’s no advantage, nothing to be gained from him continuing his ownership?  And also in determining what the punishment would be, including the suggestion to the Board of Governors, did you take into account Mr. Sterling’s past behavior, or was it just based on this one particular incident?

ADAM SILVER:  In meting out this punishment we did not take into account his past behavior.  When the board ultimately considers his overall fitness to be an owner in the NBA, they will take into account a lifetime of behavior.

Q.  Adam, could you just explain or lay out for us what specific power in the constitution and bylaws you exercised with your ban, and what specific    was it a broad violation or a specific violation, and with respect to the forced sale, what specific section of the constitution covers that, and is that a broad violation or a specific one?

ADAM SILVER:  I’ll let the lawyers lay out for you the specific provisions of our constitution.  Let’s just leave it that we have the authority to act as I’ve recommended.

Q.  Is the NBA considering more African American ownership at this point?

ADAM SILVER:  We’re always open to ownership from people of all races, nationalities, ethnicities.  As you know we have an African American primary owner in the league right now.  Shaquille O’Neal just became a small owner of the Sacramento Kings.  David Robinson is an owner of the San Antonio Spurs.  Vivek Ranadive, a person of color born in Mumbai, India, just became the primary owner of the Sacramento Kings.  So I believe we have a very diverse league, but I’d always like to see it become more diverse.

Q.  What about Magic Johnson?  Is that an option at this point?

ADAM SILVER:  Magic Johnson knows he’s always welcome as an owner in this league.  He’s been a part owner in the past of the Los Angeles Lakers, and he’s always welcome and a close friend of the NBA family.

Q.  Did you talk to any of the players before you came to this decision?  And what about Clippers’ players; if they do not want to play for a team owned by Donald Sterling anymore, do they have any recourse?

ADAM SILVER:  I talked to several players before rendering my decision.  Coincidentally I’d had a trip planned for this weekend.  I was in Memphis for a game.  I was in Oakland, and then I was in Portland Sunday night for games.  I had a chance to talk directly to Chris Paul.  I spoke to other members of the team.  I spoke extensively to Doc Rivers, and as I said, Kevin Johnson has been representing the players’ interests, and he and I have been talking multiple times a day.

So I believe the players will be satisfied with the decision and the renderings that we’ve made today.  If a player in the future doesn’t want to play for the Los Angeles Clippers and he’s under contract, we’ll deal with that when it happens.  But that’s not my sense of where we are right now.

Q.  Will this situation cause you moving forward to put new rules in place for owners from the NBA?

ADAM SILVER:  I’m not sure.  I mean, we’re always willing to take a fresh look at our rules, our constitution and bylaws, but I believe we have appropriate rules in place right now to cover a situation like this.

Q.  Just to be clear, you said when specific evidence was brought to the league you did act.  In past cases, has Donald Sterling ever been fined or suspended for racial or offensive remarks, and if not, why not?

ADAM SILVER:  He’s never been suspended or fined by the league because while there have been well documented rumors and cases filed, he was sued and the plaintiff lost the lawsuit.  That was Elgin Baylor.  There was a case brought by the Department of Justice in which ultimately Donald Sterling settled and there was no finding of guilt, and those are the only cases that have been brought to our attention.  When those two litigations were brought, they were followed closely by the league office.

Q.  Just a follow to that, one of the greatest players of all time, Elgin Baylor, accused Donald Sterling of running a plantation style franchise.  Did that not concern you, and why was that not investigated?  Despite the fact he lost the case, he has a prominent standing in the league and he said some very serious things.

ADAM SILVER:  It concerned us greatly.  We followed the litigation closely, and ultimately Elgin Baylor did not prevail in that litigation.

Q.  Obviously Carmax and State Farm withdrew their sponsorship with the LA Clippers.  With you as the commissioner of the NBA, what would you tell other people who are maybe on the fence or who have withdrawn who in the future might want to invest in one of your franchises?

ADAM SILVER:  I would say those marketing partners of the Clippers and partners of the entire NBA should judge us by our response to this incident, and I think we’ve responded appropriately, and I would be hopeful that they would return into their business relationships with the Clippers.

Q.  I’m wondering if you’ve spoken to Mr. Sterling about this ban or any of his representatives, and if so, what has Mr. Sterling’s reaction been to the punishment?

ADAM SILVER:  I did not speak directly to his representatives about this ban.  They were informed shortly before this press conference.  I did not hear precisely what their reaction was.

Q.  Have there been any decisions about whether the immediate members of Mr. Sterling’s family, including Rochelle, will be allowed to remain in an ownership or managerial position in the league, as well?

ADAM SILVER:  No, there have been no decisions about other members of the Sterling family, and I should say that this ruling applies specifically to Donald Sterling and Donald Sterling’s conduct only.

Q.  As you mentioned, over a dozen sponsors have dropped the Clippers.  What has been the financial impact on this franchise and on the league from this scandal?

ADAM SILVER:  I don’t know.  This has all happened in three days, and so I’m hopeful that there will be no long term damage to the league and to the Clippers’ organization.  But as I said earlier, I’m outraged, so I certainly understand other people’s outrage, and it will take some time    this will take some time, and appropriate healing will be necessary.  I can understand precisely why, whether they be people affiliated with the NBA or the Clippers for a long time or those corporate partners.  I can understand how upset they are, and I’ll do my best to bring them back into the NBA family.

Q.  If the owners vote three fourths vote not to force the sale, can you still under your powers institute the lifetime ban?

ADAM SILVER:  The lifetime ban has been instituted.  That is independent of forcing a sale of the team.

Q.  Can you share with us what your initial reaction was when you first heard the voice on the tape and what it was espousing?

ADAM SILVER:  When I first heard it, I was shocked.  I was hoping somehow that it was fraudulent or that it had been doctored, that possibly it wasn’t indeed Donald Sterling.  I’ve known Donald for over 20 years, so I suspected it was his voice, and we set about immediately investigating, and that was my reaction, to sort of bear down and say let’s get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.

Q.  Mayor Johnson has indicated he would like the league to undertake a full accounting of Donald Sterling’s past and the failures by the NBA to act until now.  Is that an account you’d be willing to undertake?  And would you make any effort to mete out the personal views of other NBA owners at this point?

ADAM SILVER:  I’ve had, as I said earlier, multiple conversations with Kevin Johnson, and I’m hoping that the actions we take today will satisfy our players.  I believe they should.

Q.  Can you just tell us, you said you’ve known Donald Sterling for 20 years.  What have your interactions over those 20 years been like with him?  Have you ever seen anything like this?  Have you ever felt anything like this?  And what kind of man did you judge him to be prior to this?

ADAM SILVER:  I have not been that close to him over the years, but there’s nothing I’ve ever seen in his behavior that would evidence these kinds of views.  I’ve certainly, again, because there have been a lot of public filings about his activities, I’ve been aware of those accusations, but there’s nothing I’ve ever seen firsthand that would indicate that he held the views that were expressed on these audio recordings.

Q.  I’m curious, you spoke about your personal response to this.  In terms of Donald Sterling self identifying as Jewish and you doing the same, as well, I’m wondering whether there was a specific kind of pain associated with that for you and if you felt a certain responsibility within the Jewish community to be responding to this in this way?

ADAM SILVER:  I think my response was as a human being, and I used the word distraught before.  I spoke on Saturday morning directly to Chris Paul, to Doc Rivers, and it wasn’t even anger at that point.  I mean, there was a certain somberness, and frankly, I felt sort of most strongly and personally for that team.  While this affects every player and anyone associated with the NBA family, for those players and those coaches to go out and do what they need to do and play at the highest level in the world and have them hanging over this I think caused me to have a certain sadness I would say about the entire situation.  I think this is regardless of anyone’s religion, ethnicity, nationality.  I think this is incredibly hurtful.

Q.  At any time during your conversation with Mr. Sterling, did he express any remorse or denial regarding these comments?

ADAM SILVER:  Mr. Sterling has not expressed those views directly to me.

Q.  It’s been suggested that the Clipper players be granted free agency at the end of this year as a result of this issue.  Is that something that can be considered?

ADAM SILVER:  That is not something we are considering.

Q.  If you don’t get the three quarter vote that you need, is it possible that Donald Sterling could still be an absentee owner profiting from this team even though physically he’s banned from doing anything with it?

ADAM SILVER:  I fully expect to get the support I need from the other NBA owners to remove him.

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