Outrage over racist comments purportedly made by Donald Sterling, embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner, hit a crescendo Monday, with corporations pulling their sponsorship deals with the franchise and coach Doc Rivers saying he believes “a very strong message” is coming from the NBA in response to the scandal.
That message will come Tuesday, when commissioner Adam Silver holds a news conference in New York where he could reveal sanctions the league will impose on Sterling.
A suspension of indefinite length and hefty fine — Silver can issue one of up to $1 million without approval of owners — are possible options. It remains unclear how far Silver’s powers can reach at this point, even though the NBA constitution gives the commissioner’s office a lot of latitude to protect the game’s best interest.
Many players want Sterling ousted, with Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant tweeting he “should not continue owning the clippers.”
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Rivers said, “It needs to be handled in the right way. I don’t even know what the right way is. I have a hunch. But I don’t know.”
The Clippers had Monday off, with Rivers saying he wanted his team to try and regroup mentally after a whirlwind weekend where Sterling’s alleged comments were revealed, first by TMZ and then in another recording posted on Deadspin. The NBA has not said if it was able to authenticate the tapes, but Sterling’s wife, Rochelle, told KABC-TV in Los Angeles it was her husband on the recordings.
On the recorded phone conversation, the man said to be Sterling urges a woman to not bring black people to games. V. Stiviano, identified by TMZ as the woman on the tape, is of black and Mexican descent.
Rivers, who has declined a chance to speak with his boss, said he believes Sterling is on the tape.
“I can’t tell you how upset I am,” Rivers said.
On Tuesday, the Clippers host Golden State in Game 5 of a best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series that is tied 2-2.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson suggested L.A. fans boycott the game.
“I believe if it was me, I wouldn’t come to the game,” Jackson said. “I believe the fans, the loudest statement that they can make as fans is to not show up to the game.”
CarMax and Virgin America announced they are ending their sponsorships of the Clippers, and Kia Motors America plans to suspend its advertising and sponsorship activities with the franchise. Insurer State Farm said it “will be taking a pause in our relationship with the organization.”
The NAACP said it has decided not to honor Sterling with a previously announced lifetime achievement award from its Los Angeles chapter. The NAACP said it also plans to return an undisclosed amount of donations the Clippers’ owner has made to the organization.
Paul Allen, owner of the Portland Trail Blazers and NFL Seattle Seahawks, said in a statement, “The kind of statements attributed to Clippers owner Donald Sterling, if true, are abhorrent, and not acceptable for the owner of an NBA franchise or anyone in professional sports. We at the Trail Blazers reject any and all such sentiments, and believe NBA leadership should take swift and impactful action in this case.”