Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling

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The Clippers wore their warm-up shirts inside out to hide their logo in protest on Sunday. Warriors coach Mark Jackson has suggested neither team’s fans show up for Game 5 in L.A. on Tuesday night.

Marcio Jose Sanchez • Associated Press,

NBA Commissioner Silver will comment Tuesday on Sterling

  • New York Times
  • April 29, 2014 - 11:12 AM

When the National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76ers were sold in 2011, a group of private equity investors bought the team for $280 million. When the Memphis Grizzlies were sold in 2012, a 34-year-old wireless technology entrepreneur paid $377 million. This month, two hedge fund billionaires shelled out $550 million for the lowly Milwaukee Bucks.

And then there is Donald Sterling, the former divorce lawyer who bought the Clippers for $12.7 million some 33 years ago and now finds himself at the center of swirling debate over racist remarks.

Sterling is part of the old guard of NBA owners, a group of men who bought teams before the league became a global phenomenon worth billions of dollars.

Now, the new guard of owners could help determine Sterling’s fate as they await ­findings from the investigation led by Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, into the racist statements. ­Silver, who has been commissioner only since February, scheduled a news conference for Tuesday afternoon.

Pressure on the Clippers mounted by the hour. On Monday, a flurry of advertisers, including CarMax, Virgin Airlines, Red Bull, Kia, State Farm and others, raced to suspend or cut ties with the team. State Farm called the remarks offensive and said the insurance company would be “taking a pause in our relationship with the organization.”

As the Clippers prepared to play a pivotal Game 5 of their first-round playoff series at home against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night — the first home game since the recordings were released Friday — Sterling found himself increasingly isolated, drawing universal condemnation from President Obama, Michael Jordan and even Sterling’s own wife, Rochelle, who told ESPN that she does not “condone what I heard on that tape.”

Sterling has reached out to Doc Rivers, the Clippers’ coach, but Rivers said he rebuffed him, and he felt certain that it was Sterling’s voice on the tape, which was allegedly recorded by a woman identified as V. Stiviano, who has regularly been seen with Sterling.

“I haven’t given him his due process,” Rivers said in a phone call with reporters Monday. “I haven’t given him an opportunity to explain himself and, quite honestly, right now I don’t want him to, to me. I’ll wait for that further ­judgment.”

Several team owners released statements condemning Sterling’s alleged remarks while pledging their support for Silver. Requests for interviews with 20 of the league’s owners either were declined or did not receive a response Monday.

“We trust Commissioner Adam Silver to handle this matter swiftly and properly,” said Tom Gores, 49, a private equity investor who bought the Detroit Pistons for $325 million in 2011. “But let me state without reservation: There is no place for prejudice or intolerance in our league, or anywhere else. That’s not a debatable point. It’s a first principle.”

NBA’s progressive history

The NBA has been one of the more progressive sports leagues in regards to race. It has long been the league with the most black players (76 percent as of 2013), and was the first with more than a handful of black head coaches.

Andy Dolich, a former front-office executive with the Grizzlies, said that while many of the owners may have been horrified by the statements attributed to Sterling, who has a long history of troubling behavior, some may be reluctant to support a measure that would strip Sterling of his ownership for fear of setting a precedent.

“It’s ironic that this is a circumstance focused on race, focused on black and white, but the overriding color in this is green,” Dolich said. “I would say that this is repugnant and has created such a firestorm that the league, as a community, has to do what is logical and right.”

Three decades ago, a successful local businessman interested in a team as an extravagant plaything could join the elite club of NBA owners; today, the teams are within reach of only billionaire hedge fund managers, tech moguls and Russian oligarchs.

In one sense, members of this group compete against one another every night; but they also share clear mutual interests — namely, the financial health of the league — and they regularly communicate on a wide range of issues, from league rules to player discipline. While management committees handle much of the day-to-day matters, all of the owners are involved in the league’s wider business.

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