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In this April 4, 2010, file photo, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling sits courtside during the NBA basketball game between the New York Knicks and the in Los Angeles. (Danny Moloshok/AP)
In this April 4, 2010, file photo, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling sits courtside during the NBA basketball game between the New York Knicks and the in Los Angeles. (Danny Moloshok/AP)

Clippers legal battle looms as NBA tries to force Donald Sterling to sell Add to ...

The NBA will try to force Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell his team after imposing a lifetime ban and a $2.5-million (U.S.) fine for racist remarks that were recorded by a former mistress and released to the media.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced at a press conference in New York that Mr. Sterling had confirmed that it was his voice on the recording, in which Mr. Sterling criticizes his mistress, V. Stiviano, for posting photographs of herself with black people.

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“We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views,” Mr. Silver said. “They simply have no place in the NBA.”

Mr. Silver would need the support of 22 of the 29 other owners in the league to force a sale of the team. “I fully expect to get the support I need from the other NBA owners to remove him,” he said. “When the board ultimately considers his overall fitness to be an owner in the NBA, they will take into account a lifetime of behaviour.”

Forcing Mr. Sterling to sell was seen as a legally fraught option for the NBA to pursue, but it’s apparent that the league had to act decisively to maintain the support of its players, many of whom expressed disgust for the sentiments expressed by Mr. Sterling.

It was a delicate situation for Mr. Silver, just three months into his tenure as commissioner.

Players were prepared to boycott games, according to

He said the players agreed in a call Monday night that they would strongly consider walking away from the NBA playoffs, currently under way, if they were not satisfied by the sanctions imposed by the league. That would have been disastrous for the league’s image and its business. Judging by their reaction Tuesday, the players are satisfied with the result.

Mr. Mason said the league now must establish a timetable for removing Mr. Sterling as soon as possible.

The NBA’s pre-eminent star, Miami Heat forward LeBron James was one of dozens of players who hailed Mr. Silver’s decision, calling him a “great leader.” Stephen Curry offered a “standing ovation,” while former star Grant Hill said he was “very proud of Commissioner Silver for his leadership.”

Toronto Raptors guard Terrence Ross was more cautious, seeing this as just a first step.

“As long as Sterling can still profit from the players on the Clippers’ hard work, we haven’t done enough,” Mr. Ross said on Twitter.

The league’s investigation started Saturday and players immediately began expressing intense displeasure with the situation, even going so far as to ask Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to get involved on behalf of the players’ union.

“When one rotten apple does something, or if you see cancer, you’ve got to cut it out really quickly,” Mr. Johnson said at a news conference in Los Angeles, flanked by NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and players such as Steve Nash, Tyson Chandler, Luke Walton, among others. “And Commissioner Silver did that in real time. We’re so proud and thankful for him.”

Mr. Sterling, who is 80 and made his fortune in real estate, is notoriously litigious. His first public comments since the tape was released, as reported by Jim Gray of FOX News, indicated that he does not want to sell and intends to fight for his place in the league. He bought the franchise for $12.5-million in the early 1980s. It’s estimated to now be worth somewhere between $550-million and $1-billion.

One of the possibilities being mentioned is that the NBA could push for the franchise to be sold to a group led by former NBA star Magic Johnson, who is a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mr. Sterling referred to the former Laker in the recorded conversation, asking his mistress not to bring him or other black men to Clippers games.

“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” Mr. Sterling asks Ms. Stiviano on the tape.

Mr. Silver said during Tuesday’s press conference that Mr. Johnson would be welcomed as an owner.

“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,” Mr. Silver said.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who initially expressed reservations about pursuing a forced sale of the Clippers over something Mr. Sterling had said or thought, later endorsed the commissioner’s decision.

“I agree 100 per cent with Commissioner Silvers findings and the actions taken against Donald Sterling,” Mr. Cuban wrote on Twitter.

This incident is the most public chapter in Mr. Sterling’s long history of being at the centre of allegations of racism.

He was sued by the U.S. Justice Department in 2009 for driving minority families out of the apartment buildings he owned or refusing to rent to them. He paid a $2.725-million settlement. He was also sued by his former general manager, Elgin Baylor, for age and race discrimination in 2009. In the suit, Mr. Baylor said that Mr. Sterling had a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude” in negotiations with players and that his management was “a Southern plantation-type structure.” Mr. Sterling won the court case.

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Raptors, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon thanking the commissioner.

“As a proud member of the National Basketball Association, we stand strongly in our belief that the comments attributed to Mr. Sterling have no place in our society or sport. Our organization will always work to contribute to a culture of diversity and acceptance in this league and fully support the actions taken today.”

Mr. Sterling has been exiled from the NBA. He cannot attend games or practices, cannot participate in player-personnel or business decisions and can’t attend Board of Governors meetings. But the legal battle over the Clippers future could be bitter and protracted.

The saga is likely only beginning.

With reports from the Associated Press and New York Times News Service

Follow on Twitter: @FriesenJoe

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