By Joseph M. Hanna, Esq of Goldberg Segalla LLP
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued severe sanctions against Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling, banning him from the sport for life and fining him $2.5 million for the racist remarks Sterling admitted he uttered to his girlfriend. In a statement to the press Silver noted, “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.” Silver also noted that the proceeds from the $2.5 million fine would be donated to anti-discrimination groups.
The controversy began after Sterling’s comments found their way online through the news outlet TMZ on April 26, 2014. Amongst other things, Sterling instructed his girlfriend not to post pictures of herself posing with black men on her Instagram account, and to refrain from bringing black men to Clippers games.
Though he rarely issues public statements, former NBA Superstar and current owner of the Charlotte Bobcats Michael Jordan commented, “As an owner, I’m obviously disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views . . . . As a former player, I’m completely outraged. There is no room in the NBA – or anywhere else – for the kind of racism and hatred that Mr. Sterling allegedly expressed.”
It is unclear whether or not the league will be able to force Sterling to sell the team. Sterling paid $12 million for the Clippers in 1981; today, the franchise is worth at least $575 million. Still, Silver vowed that he would do “everything in [his] power to ensure that happens.”
This latest incident is not the first time Sterling was accused of discriminatory behavior. Back in 2009, the Clippers’ owner settled a lawsuit brought by the Justice Department amidst allegations that he had committed acts of housing discrimination. Sterling was also sued by former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor for harassment and discrimination several years ago, though Sterling prevailed on those claims in 2011.
Kevin Johnson, a former NBA all-star and current chairman of the National Basketball Players Association’s executive committee, commented that the consensus among NBA players was that “[t]hey don’t think [Sterling is] worth to be an owner . . . so whether there’s a sanction that includes a suspension, whether there’s a sanction that includes a hefty fine . . . the players feel very strongly that he’s not fit to be an owner and part of this NBA family.”