Outrage over racist comments purportedly made by embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling hit a crescendo Monday, with corporations pulling their sponsorship deals with the team 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 NBA 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. However, 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 simply want Sterling ousted, with Lakers star Kobe Bryant tweeting he "should not continue owning the clippers."
"It needs to be handled in the right way," Rivers said. "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 told KABC-TV in Los Angeles that it was her husband on the recordings.
Rivers, who has declined a chance to speak with his boss, believes Sterling is on the tape.
"I can’t tell you how upset I am," Rivers said.
Tuesday is shaping up as a potentially seismic day for the Clippers, in both the short- and long-term. Rivers’ team will host Golden State on Tuesday — about 8½ hours after Silver is scheduled to speak — in a crucial Game 5 of the teams’ Western Conference first-round series, knotted now at two games apiece.
Meanwhile, the Clippers are already taking hits in other ways over Sterling’s alleged comments.
CarMax and Virgin America announced they are ending their sponsorships of the team, 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," though the popular ad campaign featuring Clippers guard Chris Paul will continue, as will the company’s initiatives with the NBA.
Los Angeles-based AQUAhydrate — launched by rap mogul Sean "P Diddy" Combs and actor Mark Wahlberg — also said it was suspending its sponsorship "in the wake of Sterling’s alleged intolerable comments ... until the NBA completes its investigation."
Losing sponsors would not seem to be an issue that only hurts the Clippers, either. It could potentially impact bottom lines across the league because of revenue sharing and Basketball Related Income, or BRI.
"The opportunity before Commissioner Silver to take an uncompromising stand against any form of prejudice in the NBA is unprecedented in the league," said Marc H. Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League.
The NAACP said it has decided not to honor Sterling with a previously announced lifetime achievement award from its Los Angeles chapter. The NAACP also plans to return an undisclosed amount of donations the Clippers owner has made to the organization.
Several team owners have condemned the alleged remarks in recent days, including Charlotte’s Michael Jordan, Miami’s Micky Arison, Washington’s Ted Leonsis and Indiana’s Herb Simon.
Regardless of what happens Tuesday, the saga surely will continue. And if Sterling is suspended, someone would likely have to be appointed to run the team, if even on an interim basis. Plus, there are numerous legal issues at play, including whether the recording was legally made and the matter of Sterling’s wife suing the woman purported to be on the tape with Sterling.
Those issues, however, are not expected to play an immediate role in how the league decides to proceed.
"Clearly, there’s things that have happened, but I don’t know what they could have done in the past," Rivers said. "I know now that there seems to be proof that they can do something now. And so I’m not worried about the past — I’m worried about now and how we handle this. I think this is going to be handled the right way. I really have a lot of faith in Adam and the league."
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