US basketball's ruling body, the NBA, has banned the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers team for life, after he was recorded making offensive comments about black people. Donald Sterling will also be fined $2.5m (£1.5m), the maximum penalty permitted by the NBA constitution.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the sanctions at a news conference. Sterling's punishment is the most severe ever handed down to a team owner. “I am banning Mr Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers organisation or the NBA,” Mr Silver said, adding that he hoped Mr Sterling would eventually be forced to sell the Clippers.
“The views expressed by Mr Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful,” Mr Silver said. “That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage. Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the basis our diverse, multicultural and multi-ethnic league.”
Mr Sterling found himself the target of widespread outrage when an audio recording emerged online over the weekend, in which he can allegedly be heard making racist remarks. On the tape, which was first released to the gossip website TMZ, the 80-year-old billionaire argues with his girlfriend, 20-something model V Stiviano, about her posting a picture on Instagram, of herself posing with basketball icon Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people,” Mr Sterling allegedly says. “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it… and not to bring them to my games.”
After the remarks became public, Mr Johnson, who played for Clippers rivals the LA Lakers for 13 years and later became a part-owner of that team, tweeted: “I will never go to a Clippers game again as long as Donald Sterling is the owner.” US President Barack Obama, who is famously a basketball fan, described Mr Sterling's comments as “incredibly offensive”.
Major firms including State Farm insurance and Kia have dropped their sponsorship of the Clippers team, while the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) cancelled its plans to honour Mr Sterling with a lifetime achievement award at a gala next month.
A property mogul and former lawyer, Mr Sterling bought the Clippers in 1981 and is the longest-standing owner in the NBA. He is also one of the league's most controversial figures, and has faced several discrimination lawsuits over that time. In 2009, for example, he paid a settlement of $2.73m (£1.62m) over allegations that he had refused to rent apartments to minority tenants.
The Clippers team has been enjoying one of the most successful seasons in its history, and is presently tied at 2-2 in a best-of-seven playoff contest against Oakland team the Golden State Warriors. Clippers players staged a silent protest against the owner's comments before a game on Sunday evening, by wearing their warm-up jerseys inside out to hide the team's logo.