NBA Commissioner Adam Silver holds a press conference to discuss Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling at the Hilton Hotel on April 29, 2014 in New York City. (Elsa/Getty)
NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced Tuesday that L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling would be fined $2.5 million and banned from the league for life after recordings of him making racist remarks were revealed via online media outlets this past weekend. Silver announced Sterling’s penalty—the maximum available under league bylaws—following an investigation headed up by Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz partner David Anders, which authenticated the recordings.
Celebrity gossip website TMZ posted audio online late Friday night capturing Sterling telling a girlfriend that he didn’t want her posting pictures of herself with African-Americans on social media or bringing black people to Clippers games.
The Clippers released a statement to the media Tuesday after Silver announced Sterling’s penalty, saying: “We wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision by the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver today. Now the healing process begins.”
As we previously reported, the league has turned to Wachtell for legal counsel in the past, with firm partner Lawrence Pedowitz handling a review of NBA policies in 2007 in the wake of a gambling scandal involving former NBA referee Tim Donaghy. Wachtell lawyers have since represented Michael Jordan in his acquisition of a controlling stake of the league’s Charlotte Bobcats in 2010 as well as an investor group that purchased the Philadelphia 76ers in 2011. Anders did not respond to our call for comment by the time of this post.
The Clippers conducted its own investigation into Sterling’s comments, led by outside general counsel Robert Platt at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. Platt and Manatt previously represented Sterling when he agreed to pay a record $2.725 million in 2009 to settle housing discrimination claims brought by the U.S. Department of Justice and in fending off employment discrimination claims brought by former Clippers GM and NBA Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor at trial in 2011.
Reached by email, Platt confirmed that Manatt handled the team’s investigation of the matter but declined to say whether the firm will represent the team or Sterling moving forward.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Silver said he intends to ask the owners of the other 29 NBA teams to vote in favor of forcing Sterling to sell his team. Under league bylaws, such a vote would need support of three-fourths of team owners.
The league is likely bracing for legal challenges from Sterling. Veteran sportscaster Jim Gray reported Tuesday afternoon that Sterling said the team was “not for sale.”
Reporter Thomas Huddleston Jr. contributed to this story.