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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Last night's 113-103 victory by the Los Angeles Clippers over the Golden State Warriors was much more than just a first round NBA playoff game. It was an emotional victory capping an emotional day. Earlier, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life. That ended for now the controversy that has engulfed the league, since a recorded audiotape emerged last Friday in which Sterling made racist comments.
NPR's Tom Goldman has been following the story and joins us now. Good morning.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk about that game at Staples Center. A lot of attention and concern, of course, about possible protest by players. What in fact happened?
GOLDMAN: Well, that didn't happen. It was replaced by a much more positive, uplifting atmosphere. This had to be what the NBA envisioned when it scheduled the commissioner's announcement for earlier in the day. It could have been bad. An executive with the NBA players' union said players were prepared to boycott if Adam Silver didn't hand down a sufficient punishment in the player's minds. But he did. And so Staples Center was filled with fans waving sign about unity and racial equality, chanting we are one. And, oh yeah, cheering madly for a big Clippers win.
MONTAGNE: Well, a big turn around there. But let's get to Sterling's punishment. The ban includes a two and a half million dollar fine. And the biggest element: Adam Silver's intention to get Donald Sterling to sell his team. Was anybody surprised by that?
GOLDMAN: Well, most expected a suspension and/or fine. A lifetime suspension raised eyebrows. The expulsion from the NBA by selling the team? That was greeted with some wows. Seventy-five percent of the owners are needed to vote in favor of expulsion for that to happen. Silver vows he has the support. The one owner who publicly said he was opposed to kicking Sterling out of the league, Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavs, appears to have changed his tune. He tweeted yesterday he agrees 100 percent with Silver's findings and actions.
Now, Sterling can't fight the lifetime ban - it says so in the NBA constitution. But a report in L.A. Times says Sterling could oppose the forced sale of his team through an anti-trust lawsuit. We haven't yet heard from Sterling, so we don't know if he'll go that route.
MONTAGNE: Well, looking forward, let me ask you, Tom, a few questions about what this all mean for the NBA commissioner, Adam Silver?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, it appears to be a rousing victory for him. He's been on the job just since February. He's getting praise from all corners, especially from players. Kevin Johnson, the Sacramento mayor who's been acting as an advisor to the league's players' union, called Silver the players' commissioner. But amidst the backslapping and huzzahs, some are concerned with how Silver seemed to hedge during yesterday's press conference when he was asked where was the NBA in the past when it came to Sterling?
Sterling is longest tenured NBA owner. He's owned the Clippers since 1981. And there's a history of discriminatory behavior, including lawsuits and assorted comments. It wasn't until yesterday that the league cracked down. Silver said when specific evidence was brought to the NBA, we acted. But there's still doubt in some people's minds.
MONTAGNE: And the players, Tom. They showed a great deal of solidarity during this experience.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, they really did. The players seemed more united than ever. Certainly more than they do, say, during collective bargaining. I think because race is such a personal, emotional issue, you know, it transcends which team you play for. And this unity perhaps will put the league on notice that players aren't going to be passive in the future.
Certainly in the short-term, at least with this case, players were widely thrilled about yesterday. But also very clear that the process has to play out and that Sterling has to go. So they'll be watching very closely.
MONTAGNE: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, thanks very much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.