In what amounts to another severing of ties between disgraced owner Donald Sterling and the Clippers, the NBA announced Tuesday that team president Andy Roeser will be taking an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately.
The move comes days after the NBA announced that a new CEO would be appointed to lead the organization as the league pursues an ouster of Sterling, who was caught on tape making a series of racist remarks.
"[Roeser's leave of absence] will provide an opportunity for a new CEO to begin on a clean slate and for the team to stabilize under difficult circumstances,” an NBA spokesman said in a statement.
Sterling, 80, has owned the Clippers for 33 years. Last week, TMZ released audio of a conversation in which Sterling can allegedly be heard scolding V. Stiviano, his girlfriend, for bringing African-Americans to Clippers games and for posting photos of herself and African-Americans, including Lakers legend Magic Johnson, to her Instagram account. Last week, NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million and banned him from attending NBA games, practices, the Clippers' facilities, and all personnel decisions. Two days later, the NBA's 10-member advisory/finance committee voted unanimously to pursue Silver's plan to oust Sterling and complete an ownership change.
Roeser's departure step presumably prevents any possibility of -- or even the appearance of -- Sterling calling the shots as an absentee owner through Roeser, who worked for Sterling for decades. As the controversy over Sterling's comments unfolded last week, Roeser issued a controversial press release in which Sterling refused to say whether the voice on the tape was his and questioned the tape's legitimacy and Stiviano's motives. The release also said the statements on the tape did not reflect Sterling's beliefs and included an apology to Johnson.
The Clippers' new CEO, who has not yet been named, will be tasked with "supervising the team's operations," according to a press statement.
"The best way to ensure the stability of the team during this difficult situation is to move quickly and install a CEO to oversee the Clippers organization," a league spokesman said. "The process of identifying that individual is underway.”
A three-quarters majority vote of the league’s owners — 22 out of the other 29 owners — is required to force out Sterling. Kings owner Vivek Ranadive said he expects unanimous support from the NBA owners to oust Sterling.
The NBA continues to move quickly as it seeks to add some immediate stability while the ownership transfer process runs its course.
ESPNLA.com reported this week that Clippers coach Doc Rivers called a meeting of staff members, who were understandably shaken by Sterling's comments and the franchise's uncertain future.
"It was really hard to see them," Rivers said. "I didn't realize. Ticket people and marketing people, they're sitting there crying and I felt so bad for them. I was thinking, 'My gosh, we've been in this thing as players and as coaches but you forget these are the people that are on the front line.' They work for the organization, too. You just felt so bad for them today. You're sitting there and they were sharing some of the calls they had. They didn't know the story was breaking and when it broke, like we said, there's no playbook for this."
Rivers has not committed to remaining with the Clippers next season, even though he is under contract as both a coach and front-office executive after arriving from the Celtics last summer.
Complicating matters further, Sterling's wife, Shelly, has attended multiple games during the team's first-round series against the Warriors. She has also denied that she is a racist, and Rivers has taken a compassionate approach towards her.
Shelly Sterling issued a statement on Saturday welcoming Silver's involvement in the search for a CEO. On Tuesday, she called Roeser's departure a "painful" but "necessary" step.
"For nearly three decades, Andy has been a crucial part of putting together our winning team, both on the court and in the front office," her statement read. "Everyone in the Clippers family owes him a huge debt of gratitude for his efforts. The team's senior management -- including Doc Rivers, Ed Lamb, and Carl Lahr -- are more than capable of guiding the organization during this time. I have the utmost confidence in them."
Representatives of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) said at a press conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday that while they are pleased with the term of the punishment handed down by Silver, they still believe Sterling -- and his family members -- must be replaced by a new ownership group.
“We want maximum allowable punishment under the bylaws and constitution and what that equates to for us as players, there must be a change in ownership,” said Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who is acting as an adviser for the NBPA.
“As players, we’re very happy with the decision, but we’re not content yet,” NBPA vice president Roger Mason Jr. said. “We want immediate action. We want a timetable from the owners on when this vote is going to happen. We feel confident that with Adam Silver’s urging, and we’ve heard from a lot of the owners around the league, we think this is something that can be handled quickly.”
Sterling has not issued a formal statement about the future of the franchise since Silver handed down the lifetime ban. However, Sterling told a Fox News reporter on Tuesday, moments before Silver’s press conference, that he was not planning to sell the team, which could be worth $1 billion.
The Clippers hold a 1-0 series lead over the Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals. Game 2 is set for Wednesday in Oklahoma City.