NEW YORK — Denouncing Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling's racist comments in strong language, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the league has banned Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million.
"The central findings of the investigation are that the man whose voice is on the recordings ... is Mr. Sterling and that the hateful feelings are those of Mr. Sterling. The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply disturbing and alarming," Silver said.
"As for Mr. Sterling's ownership interest in the Clippers," Silver said. "I will urge the board of governors to force a sale of the team and will do everything in my power to ensure that happens."
Silver said he made the decision to ban Sterling Tuesday morning and that he will begin immediately the process of trying to get Sterling to sell the team.
"This has been a painful moment for all members of the NBA family," Silver said.
Sliver said he didn't poll the owners, but did speak to several who he said supports the decision.
"The owners have the authority subject to 3/4 vote, to remove him as owner," Silver said.
In Silver's first seminal moment as commissioner since taking over for David Stern in February, he issued the heaviest penalty possible under his power, which is governed by the NBA's private constitution and bylaws.
Sponsors began pulled out Monday and Silver said marketing partners should judge NBA based on league's response to Sterling incident.
Promising a quick investigation, Silver said Sterling confirmed the voice on the audio is his and said the recording was not tampered with, as the Clippers suggested was possible in a statement on Saturday.
Comments by Sterling surfaced Saturday when TMZ posted the audio recording on its web site. In a conversation between he and a female friend, he chastised the woman for posting pictures of herself on Instagram with minorities, including Basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson and Los Angeles Dodgers Matt Kemp.
"Why are you taking pictures with minorities, why?" Sterling said.
He continued: "Don't put him on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. … And don't bring him to my games, OK?" the person said on the audio recording.
"Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to promo, broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?" Sterling also said.
"When I first heard the comments I was hoping it was doctored and hoping it wasn't Donald," Silver said. "I've known Donald for over 20 years.
"I haven't been that close to him, but never seen anything that would indicate that he held the views that were expressed in these audio tapes."
The comments drew strong criticism and outrage from players, owner, civil rights activists and public officials, including President Obama.
Several prominent players, coaches and owners, including LeBron James, Doc Rivers and Michael Jordan, and President Obama professed confidence in Silver.
Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, who is heading the National Basketball Players Associations' search for a new executive director, has taken a lead role on behalf of the players' union.
He outlined five actions he and players wanted to see from Silver and the NBA, and late Monday, Johnson wrote on Facebook that Sterling "should be suspended indefinitely, banned from games, slapped with the maximum fine possible, and forced to extract himself from basketball operations. He should be required to name someone from his executive team or family to take over all duties related to the Clippers.
While Sterling's comments have dominated the news, basketball insiders were not surprised. In 2005, Sterling, a real estate tycoon, agreed to pay an undisclosed amount in a lawsuit that alleged Sterling tried to force non-Koreans out of apartments in Koreatown. In 2009, Sterling paid a then-record $2.73 million Justice Department penalty for rental housing discrimination.
Sterling bought the Clippers in 1981 and is the NBA's longest tenured owner
The Clippers, who are middle of a tight 2-2 first-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors, are in the middle of a controversy they didn't want or need. Rivers, and this is no surprise, turned into an admirable spokesperson for the Clippers.
"I would like to reiterate how disappointed I am in the comments attributed to (Sterling) and I can't even begin to tell you how upset I am and our players are," Rivers said in a statement. "(Monday), I had a meeting with the members of our organization. When you are around all these people, you realize they are just as upset and embarrassed by the situation and it does not reflect who they really are. That was what I got from all of them. They are now a part of this and they are upset at this.
"We are all trying to figure out everything as it goes and just do our best and we hope that it is the right answer. I'm still going to do my best and do what I think is best for the team and for everybody in this case. It is very difficult because there are so many emotions in this. This is a very emotional subject, this is personal.
"My belief is that the longer we keep winning, the more we talk about this. I believe that is good. If we want to make a statement - I believe that is how we have to do it. I think that is the right way to do it, but that doesn't mean we still don't wrestle with it every day and every moment. That is the difficult part."
In a statement on Saturday, the Clippers said the woman who recorded the conversation is being sued by the Sterling family, accused of embezzling $1.8 million. The statement also said the woman told Sterling she would "get even."
"Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them," the Clippers said in the statement.
Sterling's comments came amid an exciting start to the NBA players and overshadowed several compelling storylines.