NEW YORK — NBA commissioner Adam Silver, taking a bold and unprecedented step in a controversy that sent shock waves throughout the sports world, on Tuesday suspended Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league for life, imposed a $2.5 million fine, and said the team must be sold because of Sterling’s recorded racist comments.
Silver’s decision, widely praised by NBA players and owners, came just three days after TMZ released a tape of Sterling admonishing his girlfriend for posing for pictures with African-Americans, and telling her not to bring African-Americans to Clippers games.
“Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural, and multiethnic league,” Silver said during a news conference Tuesday at the New York Hilton. “I am personally distraught that the views expressed by Mr. Sterling came from within an institution that historically has taken such a leadership role in matters of race relations.”
Silver, who took over for longtime NBA commissioner David Stern in February, appears to have imposed the stiffest possible penalty available to him, and one of the harshest sanctions ever in pro sports.
The taped remarks shocked the NBA community and made national headlines, with several former and current NBA players and current owners calling for strong action against Sterling, who has owned the Clippers franchise since 1981. Several sponsors pulled their support from the team in protest, and the signage inside the arena usually reserved for the companies instead bore the Clippers’ logo when the team played the Golden State Warriors.
The Clippers’ staff wore black in solidarity and many in the crowd did as well, with former Major League Baseball outfielder Kenny Lofton sitting near the court in a shirt that read “BLACK AND PROUD.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who had left open the possibility he wouldn’t return next year if Sterling owned the team, praised Silver’s decision Tuesday night before the game.
‘‘I felt the pressure on my players. Everyone was waiting for them to give a response. I kept thinking, ‘They didn’t do anything, yet they have to respond.’ So Adam responded. I thought that that was the sigh of relief that we needed,’’ Rivers said.
Silver said the league will attempt to force Sterling to sell the Clippers, a move that is almost certain to be challenged in court by Sterling, according to NBA sources.
Sterling, the league’s longest-tenured owner, did not offer an immediate response. A Fox News contributor who interviewed Sterling before Silver’s announcement in New York said the owner stated the team was not for sale.
The team was based in San Diego when Sterling bought it for about $12.5 million, and he moved it to Los Angeles in 1984. Forbes recently assessed its value at $575 million.
In the past, Sterling has been hit with discrimination lawsuits deriving from his rental properties, and with an age- and race-discrimination lawsuit brought by former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor, who alleged the owner had a “plantation mentality.’’ A jury ruled in Sterling’s favor.
Despite his history, the NBA had never disciplined Sterling until Tuesday. This episode, though, was different.
Silver said the NBA launched an investigation, which included an interview of Sterling, shortly after the audio recording surfaced Saturday.
“ The central findings of the investigation are that the man whose voice is heard on the recording and on a second recording from the same conversation that was released on Sunday is Mr. Sterling, and that the hateful opinions voiced by that man are those of Mr. Sterling,” Silver said at the press conference.
Silver then apologized to several African-American basketball pioneers, including Celtics great Bill Russell, before announcing his penalties.
In addition to the fine and the requirement to sell the team, Sterling will be banned from attending Clippers games and practices, as well as from all NBA facilities, and prohibited from making any team personnel decisions.
Silver said the fine would be donated to “organizations dedicated to antidiscrimination and tolerance efforts that will be jointly selected by the NBA and its players association.”
The sanctions came a few hours before the Clippers were to play Golden State in Game 5 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series. By game time, Silver’s action was winning praise throughout the league.
Donald Sterling banned for life by the NBA
In an e-mail to the Globe, Celtics majority partner Wyc Grousbeck said: “I support Adam’s actions and decisions today — it shows why he will be a great commissioner. He united the players and the owners and took decisive action.”
The National Basketball Players Association, which is being advised by Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, a former NBA all-star, endorsed Silver’s decision in a press conference at Los Angeles City Hall.
The Clippers also released a statement, saying, “We wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision by the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver today. Now the healing process begins.”
After Silver’s announcement, the Clippers website was changed to show the message, “We are one,” and a team logo on an all-black background.
Magic Johnson, the former Los Angeles Lakers great, praised the penalty on Twitter.
“Commissioner Silver showed great leadership in banning LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life,” Johnson wrote.
Johnson was mentioned in Sterling’s remarks. The female companion of the Clippers owner had apparently posted a photo of her with Johnson on her Instagram account, angering Sterling.
‘‘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.
At the players association press conference, Kevin Johnson said, “I hope every bigot in this country sees what happens to Mr. Sterling and recognizes that if he can fall, so can you.”