Former Celtics coach Doc Rivers declined on Monday to commit to returning to the Los Angeles Clippers next year, and eight companies suspended their sponsorships with the NBA team, amid mounting pressure on team owners and the league’s commissioner to take action over racist comments attributed to Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver scheduled a 2 p.m. press conference in New York on Tuesday, a sign that the league has reached a decision following several days of controversy stemming from the release of an audio tape of Sterling apparently telling his girlfriend that he does not want African-Americans attending Clippers games.
As outrage over the comments grew, several companies publicly announced they were ceasing business with the Clippers. Sprint, Kia Motors, State Farm, Virgin America airlines, Red Bull, Yokohama Tires, Mercedes Benz, and CarMax all suspended sponsorship with the club.
Meanwhile, in a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon, Rivers, who coached the Celtics for nine seasons, denounced Sterling’s apparent statements and said he rejected an opportunity to speak with the embattled owner.
“I don’t think right now is the time or the place for me, at least, so I took a pass,’’ Rivers said of the offer to speak with the owner.
He said he believed the voice on the tape belonged to Sterling.
‘‘These last 48 hours or so have been really hard for our players and everyone,’’ Rivers told reporters. ‘‘I'd just like to reiterate how disappointed I am in the comments attributed to our owner. I can’t tell you how upset I am, our players are.’’
“I think this is a very important decision,” Rivers said of Tuesday’s NBA ruling. “I hope it’s a very strong message and I believe that it will be.’’
Rivers left the Celtics last June to accept a lucrative three-year, $21 million offer to coach the Clippers with Sterling as owner. Hired to carry a historically downtrodden Clippers organization to new heights, he would not address the question of his future in Los Angeles.
“This just happened; my focus right now is on everything else and so little on me right now,” he said. “I don’t want to be part of this story. I don’t have an answer one way or the other [on my future]. We’ll wait and see.”
Now he has to continue to coach his team throughout the playoffs. The Clippers host the Golden State Warriors Tuesday night in the first game at home since the statements became public.
In Sunday’s Game 4 of the Western Conference first-round series against the Warriors, the Clippers players wore their practiceT-shirts inside out to hide the Clippers logo and wore black socks and armbands in protest of the racist sentiments.
Meanwhile, the Staples Center released a statement denouncing Sterling and hoping for a safe playing environment Tuesday: “We are deeply troubled by these disturbing remarks which go against everything we believe in as an organization. We support the players, the coaches, the rest of the team and their fans and we are committed to providing a safe, secure, and welcoming environment for everyone at tomorrow night’s NBA playoff game.”
CarMax, the nation’s largest retailer of used vehicles, said it was ending its sponsorship of the team and called the statements attributed to Sterling ‘‘completely unacceptable.’’
‘‘While we have been a proud Clippers sponsor for nine years and support the team, fans and community, these statements necessitate that CarMax end its sponsorship,’’ it said.
Portions of the recordings were released over the weekend by TMZ and Deadspin. Silver’s first step in the process was to authenticate that it is Sterling’s voice on the tape.
The NBA has not confirmed that it is Sterling’s voice, but his wife attributed the comments to him.
‘‘Our family is devastated by the racist comments made by my estranged husband,’’ Rochelle Sterling said in a statement sent to KABC-TV in Los Angeles. ‘‘My children and I do not share these despicable views or prejudices. We will not let one man’s small-mindedness poison the spirit of the fans and accomplishments of the team in the city we love. We are doing everything in our power to stand by and support our Clippers team.’’
Lakers star Kobe Bryant wrote on his Twitter account, ‘‘He should not continue owning the Clippers.”
Also, the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP announced in a news conference that it would not honor Sterling with a second Lifetime Achievement Award, as it planned to do before the tapes were released.
Rivers was visibly disappointed by the developments.
“I sympathize with my players. They didn’t sign on for this,” he said. “What bothers me the most is they are getting attacked in some ways. I feel terrible for them. I want to do what I can to make them OK. Even to the point of should you play or not, all those things have been talked about by all of us. It’s very difficult to compete in a playoff series when you have any of those thoughts.”
It is unclear what Silver, who became commissioner on Feb. 1, will do. Options could include a fine, a suspension, and a demand for sensitivity training.
Silver works for the team owners, and several have indicated they have no sympathy for Sterling. Among those who have spoken out publicly to condemn the remarks are Washington’s Ted Leonsis, Miami’s Micky Arison, and perhaps most notably, Charlotte’s Michael Jordan.
‘‘I'm obviously disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views,’’ Jordan said in a statement released Sunday. ‘‘I'm confident that Adam Silver will make a full investigation and take appropriate action quickly.’’
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, the former NBA All-Star who is serving as an adviser to the National Basketball Players Association, called the matter ‘‘a massive distraction’’ to the league.
‘‘This is a defining moment for the league,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘It’s a defining moment for the commissioner.’’