NBA commissioner Adam Silver delivered the swiftest, strongest penalty he could, then called on NBA owners to force Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell the team for making racist comments that hurt the league.

Almost unanimously, owners supported the commissioner Tuesday as he handed down one of the harshest penalties in the history of U.S. sports.

"We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling's views. They simply have no place in the NBA," Silver said at a media conference.

Sterling, 80, is banned for life from any association with the league or the Clippers and was fined $2.5 million — the maximum allowable under the NBA constitution. If three-fourths of the other 29 owners agree to Silver's recommendation, Sterling will be forced to sell the team he has owned since 1981.

Silver expressed outrage at Tuesday's media gathering.

"I fully expect to get the support I need from the other NBA owners to remove him," Silver said of Sterling.

Several owners immediately chimed in with support of Silver's decision. Silver said a league investigation found that Sterling was in fact the person on the audiotapes that were released over the weekend and immediately sent shock waves throughout the game.

Sterling acknowledged he was the man on the tape, Silver said.

A message left seeking comment at Sterling's business office hadn't been returned Tuesday afternoon. Team spokesman Seth Burton said in an email that the Clippers had no plans to issue a statement from Sterling on Tuesday.

It's unclear how Sterling will respond.

Players and others cheered Silver's quick action, with union officials saying that if the league's punishment hadn't included a mandate for Sterling to sell the team, players were considering boycotting playoff games, including Tuesday's Golden State Warriors-Clippers matchup, the team's first home game since the scandal erupted.

"We wanted to be a part of this decision and we wanted Adam Silver to know where we stood. And we were very clear that anything other than Sterling selling his team was not going to be enough for us," said Roger Mason Jr., the first vice president of the players' union.

Chris Paul, the Clippers' all-star point guard and president of the players' union, issued a brief statement before leading Los Angeles against the Warriors in Game 5 of their tied playoff series.

"In response to today's ruling by the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver, my teammates and I are in agreement with his decision," Paul said. "We appreciate the strong leadership from commissioner Silver and he has our full support."

"This league is far bigger than any one owner, any one coach and any one player," said Silver, who as commissioner has broad powers under what's typically called the "best interest of the game" clause of the NBA constitution.

But Silver works for the owners and he will need 75 per cent of them — if all 30 teams vote, he'll need 23 on his side — to force Sterling out of the league completely.

The fine will be donated to organizations dedicated to anti-discrimination and tolerance efforts that will be jointly selected by the NBA and the Players Association, Silver said.

"This has all happened in three days, and so I am hopeful there will be no long-term damage to the league and to the Clippers organization," Silver said. "But as I said earlier, I'm outraged so I certainly understand other people's outrage. This will take some time and appropriate healing will be necessary."

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Current and past players from the NBA reacted to the Sterling controversy, including Sacramento, Calif., Mayor and ex-NBA player Kevin Johnson, middle, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (Associated Press)

After the announcement, the Clippers' website had a simple message: "We are one," it read.

"We wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision by the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver today. Now the healing process begins," the Clippers added in a statement.

The "We are one" mantra was repeated by the team's public-address announcers and chanted by their fans several times during their playoff game Tuesday night, a cathartic 113-103 victory over the Golden State Warriors.

The Clippers received raucous cheers when they took the court for warmups before Game 5. Two days earlier, they dumped their team warmup jerseys in a pile at centre court in Oakland in a gesture of defiance against their owner before losing Game 4 of the series.

Sterling's Clippers have been one of the most incompetent franchises in pro sports and nearly all of their previous seasons would have been finished by now. But after the most successful two-year stretch in Clippers history, the current team is a title contender led by Doc Rivers, a black head coach whom Sterling brought in from Boston and paid $7 million a year.

"[Silver] made the decision that really was the right one that had to be made," Rivers said before the Clippers' game. "I don't think this is something that we rejoice in or anything like that. I told the players about the decision and I think they were just happy there was a resolution and that it's over, at least the start of it. I think we're all in a better place because of this."

Sterling's comments were released over the weekend by TMZ and Deadspin and numerous NBA owners and players have condemned them. Even President Barack Obama weighed in on the crisis, the first of Silver's brief tenure as commissioner.

"Commissioner Silver thank you for protecting our beautiful and powerful league!! Great leader!!," Miami Heat star LeBron James wrote on Twitter.

Nash lauds NBA commissioner

Lakers guard and Canadian Steve Nash, spoke as a representative of current NBA players at a press conference assembled by Sacramento mayor and National Basketball Players Association adviser Kevin Johnson, along with Los Angeles major Eric Garcetti.

Nash, from Victoria, thanked Silver for "a quick, unequivocal and concise decision made today on behalf of everyone involved in this situation.

"It begs the bigger question: if racism is a learned behaviour, how long will it go on for?" Nash continued. "How long will people be taught to be bigoted, to discriminate and to instill hatred in our communities?

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver issues a lifetime ban to Clippers owner Donald Sterling in New York on Tuesday. (Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

"Let's hope this is an opportunity for all of us ... to help educate and take one step further to eradicating racism in our communities."

Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Raptors, also released a statement in support of Silver's decision. 

"As a proud member of the National Basketball Association, we stand strongly in our  belief that the comments attributed to Mr. Sterling have no place in our society or sport, the statement read. 

"Our organization will always work to contribute to a culture of diversity and acceptance in this  league and fully support the actions taken today. We thank Commissioner Adam Silver, and all  of the NBA players, for their leadership on this important issue." 

Investigation began Saturday

The league's investigation started Saturday and players immediately began expressing intense displeasure with the situation, even going so far as to ask Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to get involved on behalf of the players' union.

"When one rotten apple does something, or if you see cancer, you've got to cut it out really quickly," Kevin Johnson said at a news conference in Los Angeles, flanked by NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and players like Steve Nash, Tyson Chandler, Luke Walton and Roger Mason Jr., among others. "And Commissioner Silver did that in real time. We're so proud and thankful for him."

The sanctions came a few hours before the Clippers were to play Golden State in Game 5 of a tied-up Western Conference first-round playoff series.

"When you get this many Lakers to stand up for the Clippers, you know something big is happening in L.A.," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. "We are a single team here today, a team not only speaking out for what we're against — racism, hatred, bigotry, intolerance — but what we're for. We're for great basketball."

Before Silver took the podium, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban tweeted out a photo of the NBA Constitution, saying "It exists for a reason."

Several sponsors either terminated or suspended their business dealings with the team on Monday, though individual deals that some of those companies have with Clippers stars like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will continue and were not affected. Still, it was a clear statement that companies, like just about everyone inside the league, were outraged.

"Commissioner Silver showed great leadership in banning LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life," Magic Johnson, who was referenced on the taped conversation involving Sterling, tweeted shortly after the league's decision was announced.

Johnson's role on the tape stemmed from Sterling's female companion apparently posting a photo of her and the Hall of Fame player on her Instagram account. That photo has since been deleted, but raised Sterling's ire nonetheless.

"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?" Sterling asks the woman on the tape.

Long history of controversy

The issues raised when the tapes were released over the weekend represent just another chapter in Sterling's long history of being at the centre of controversy.

In the past, he's faced extensive federal charges of civil rights violations and racial discrimination in his business dealings, and some of his race-related statements would be described as shocking.

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The scandal has attracted attention from outside the world of basketball. Filmmaker and avid basketball fan Spike Lee attended Tuesday's news conference by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in New York. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

He has also been sued in the past for sexual harassment by former employees, and even the woman who goes by the name "V. Stiviano" — purportedly the female voice on the tapes at the center of this scandal — describes Sterling in court documents as a man "with a big toothy grin brandishing his sexual prowess in the faces of the Paparazzi and caring less what anyone else thought, the least of which, his own wife."

Stiviano is being sued by Rochelle Sterling, who is seeking to reclaim at least $1.8 million in cash and gifts that her husband allegedly provided the woman.

Stiviano is "very saddened" by his lifetime NBA ban and she didn't release the recording of their conversation, her lawyer said Tuesday.

Stiviano "never wanted any harm to Donald," Siamak Nehoray of Calabasas told the Los Angeles Times. 

Somebody released it "for money," but it wasn't Stiviano, the attorney said.

"My client is devastated that this got out," he said.

Nehoray previously said the recording posted online is a snippet of a conversation lasting roughly an hour.

Silver said when he first heard the audio, he hoped it had been altered or was fake — but also said that from his 20-year relationship with Sterling, he suspected the voice was his.

"This has been a painful moment," Silver said, "for all members of the NBA family."

With files from CBCSports.ca