|ESPN.com: NBA||[Print without images]|
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Facing his first major issue as NBA commissioner, Adam Silver said he plans to show restraint and allow an investigation to play out before imposing any sanctions on Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling after an audio tape surfaced of Sterling purportedly making racist remarks.
Silver said Sterling was owed due process but that the league would move "extraordinarily quickly" in gathering and verifying facts surrounding the recording released by TMZ. In the interim, Sterling told the league he would not attend his team's playoff game Sunday at Golden State.
"All members of the NBA family should be afforded due process and a fair opportunity to present their side of any controversy," Silver said. "The core of the investigation is understanding whether the tape is authentic, interviewing Mr. Sterling and interviewing the woman as well and understanding the context in which it was recorded."
Silver spent the day Saturday communicating with Sterling's fellow owners, Clippers coach Doc Rivers, point guard and players' union president Chris Paul, and league attorneys while flying into Memphis on a previously scheduled visit.
There are several issues for the commissioner, who took power Feb. 1. One would be to decide on some sort of direct punishment for the comments Sterling allegedly made to a girlfriend. The broader issue is whether to address Sterling's control of the team in the wake of years of lawsuits and anecdotes accusing him of discrimination both in business and personal dealings.
Silver left all options on the table for how the matter might be settled.
"There are broad powers in place under the NBA's constitution and bylaws that include a range of sanctions," Silver said. "All of those will be considered depending on the findings of our investigation."
After attending the Oklahoma City Thunder-Memphis Grizzlies game Saturday night, Silver is scheduled to fly to Oakland for the Clippers-Warriors game Sunday. It is possible Silver could meet with Sterling while in California.
"We intend to get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible," Silver said. "I personally think the situation is most unfair to the Clippers players and coaches."
President Barack Obama also addressed the situation, calling the reported remarks "incredibly offensive" and expressing confidence in Silver and the NBA to handle the matter.
"I don't think I have to interpret those statements for you; they kind of speak for themselves," Obama said, speaking at a Sunday news conference in Malaysia. "When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don't really have to do anything. You just let them talk. And that's what happened here."
Obama also said the United States still wrestles with "the legacy of race and slavery and segregation."
"Obviously, the NBA is a league that is beloved by fans all across the country," Obama said. "It's got an awful lot of African-American players. It's steeped in African-American culture. And, I suspect that the NBA is going to be deeply concerned in resolving this."
In the audio recording, the man believed to be Sterling questions his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, about her association with minorities. TMZ reports that Stiviano, who is black and Mexican, posted a picture of herself with Magic Johnson on Instagram, a photo that has since been removed.
"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?" the man believed to be Sterling says. He continues, "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 on that ... and not to bring them to my games."
In addition to the NBA investigation, the Clippers have opened their own investigation, team president Andy Roeser said in a statement.
"We have heard the tape on TMZ. We do not know if it is legitimate or it has been altered," he said. "We do know that the woman on the tape -- who we believe released it to TMZ -- is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family alleging that she embezzled more than $1.8 million, who told Mr. Sterling that she would 'get even.'
There are broad powers in place under the NBA's constitution and bylaws that include a range of sanctions. All of those will be considered depending on the findings of our investigation.” -- NBA commissioner Adam Silver
"Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them."
Rochelle Sterling, Donald Sterling's wife of more than 50 years, filed a lawsuit against Stiviano, asking for the return of all cash, land, cars and other gifts Donald gave Stiviano that under California law are the community property of the Sterlings. The gifts include a duplex worth $1.8 million, a Ferrari, a Range Rover and two Bentleys. The lawsuit states Stiviano knew the gifts given to her were provided without the "knowledge, consent or authorization" of Rochelle Sterling.
The lawsuit also states Donald Sterling had asked Stiviano to return the gifts and she refused.
An ABC News reporter on Saturday attempted to contact Stiviano at her home, but she refused to answer the door. She had posted signs saying she had no comment and to contact her lawyer.
Players around the league began reacting as news of the investigation spread.
Clippers star Paul issued a statement.
"On behalf of the National Basketball Players Association, this is a very serious issue which we will address aggressively," it read. "We have asked [Sacramento] Mayor Kevin Johnson to expand his responsibilities with the NBPA, to determine our response and our next steps. As players, we owe it to our teams and our fans to keep our focus on our game, the playoffs, and a drive to the Finals."
Johnson, for his part, called the comments "reprehensible and unacceptable." He is a former NBA All-Star guard and chairman of a search committee to find a new director for the union.
"It's a damn shame but a sad reality that we have people in the world who continue to further such ignorance," Lakers star Kobe Bryant told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith. "I would not want to play for him."
Warriors coach Mark Jackson, whose team is playing the Clippers in a first-round playoff series, said he was "disappointed in the comments made."
It's "unfortunate," he continued. "I believe there's no place in society for those feelings, and it's just sad."
Heat star LeBron James summed up his thoughts on the situation: "No room for Donald Sterling in our league."
"As commissioner of our league, you have to make a stand and you have to be very aggressive with it," James said. "I don't know what it's going to be, but you just can't have that in our league."
Michael Jordan, the only NBA majority owner who is African American, had no comment at this time, his business manager said.
Former Clipper Baron Davis took to Twitter to express his thoughts about Sterling.
ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, ESPN.com's Darren Rovell, Michael Wallace and Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPNLosAngeles.com's Arash Markazi and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
That's the way it is...He is honest about what he believes in..Been going on for a long time, Hats off 2 the Team.. 4 playin above it all.- Baron Davis (@Baron_Davis) April 26, 2014