Former NBA players A. C. Green (L), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Roger Mason Jr. (R) attend at a news conference outside City Hall in Los Angeles, California, April 29, 2014.
A weekend of embarrassment for the Los Angeles Clippers and their fans led to a day of healing as the National Basketball Association imposed a lifetime ban on team owner Donald Sterling for his racist remarks.
“I don’t think this is something we rejoice in,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said in a news conference before his team hosted the Golden State Warriors tonight in Game 5 of their playoff series. “But it’s the start of a healing process we need, and it’s a start for our organization to try to get through this.”
This afternoon, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver not only banned Sterling, he fined the owner $2.5 million and said he would urge owners to force Sterling to sell the team. Three-quarters of the NBA’s 30 owners would have to vote him out; Silver said he was confident that it would happen.
Sterling was banned after website TMZ posted a recording of him telling a woman to not bring black people to Clippers games. It came after the woman, with whom he sat at his team’s games, posted a photo of herself and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson to Instagram.
Outside the Clippers’ Staples Center, Tony Zeddies summed up the sentiments of many fans. He wore a black T-shirt with white lettering saying “Love the Players” on the front and “Hate the Owner” on the back.
Minutes after Silver announced the sanctions against Sterling this afternoon, the team issued a statement saying that “We wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision by the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver today. Now the healing process begins.”
The home page on the team’s website was all black except for the team’s logo and the words “We are one.”
Sterling’s remarks brought rebukes ranging from U.S. President Barack Obama to Charlotte Hornets Chairman and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan. At least 12 Clippers sponsors either withdrew or suspended their support. Adidas AG, the world’s second biggest sporting goods maker, reinstated its sponsorship after Silver’s announcement.
Clippers fans are finally getting a taste of success, including three straight years in the postseason, after suffering through decades of losing; the franchise has had five winning seasons since Sterling bought it in 1981.
“The team, the fans are bigger than any stupid comments an owner can make,” said Zeddies, 42, who said he has been going to Clippers games for three decades. This season, the team had the third best record in the NBA. The Clippers were tied with the Golden State Warriors in their best-of-seven first-round series at two games each.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said the comments from Sterling, who amassed a fortune of $1.9 billion according to Forbes magazine investing in apartment units in Los Angeles and elsewhere, cast a bad light on the entire city.
“This is not just about basketball, this is about Los Angeles; this city stands for civil rights,” Garcetti said at a City Hall news conference attended by former and current NBA players. “I want to thank Commissioner Silver for bringing down the hammer, for being as strong as he could be.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 67, a Hall of Fame player who led the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA titles in the 1980s and remains the league’s career scoring leader, said he had several sleepless nights after Sterling’s remarks were broadcast.
“This really bothered me, but I’m just really thrilled with what Commissioner Silver did,” he said at the City Hall news conference that also included Tyson Chandler of the New York Knicks. “His actions and focus were so on the mark it was unbelievable.”
Also attending that news conference was Steve Nash, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player who now plays for the Lakers -- who share the Staples Center with the Clippers.
“After initial outrage, disappointment and sadness, I think today is a very proud day for not only current and former players, but for the NBA,” Nash said. “It begs a bigger question -- if racism is a learned behavior, how long will it go on for, how long will people be taught to be bigoted and instill hatred in our communities? Let’s hope this is a chance to educate and take one more step toward eradicating racism.”
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a three-time NBA All-Star who was speaking on behalf of the National Basketball Players Association, said the last few days have provided “a very stark reminder that we still have a lot of work to do. These events remind all of us that hatred and bigotry are far from over.”
“This is bigger than basketball, this is a defining moment in our history,” Johnson said at the City Hall news conference. “Throughout our history, sports has played a pivotal role in advancing civil rights. I believe that today stands as one of those great moments, where sports once again transcends, where sports provides a place for fundamental change on how our country should think and act.”