Clippers players, fans react to alleged Sterling tape; NBA has at least 3 options for sanctions (Updated)

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

The L.A. Clippers walked into the Oracle Arena in Oakland and warmed up in shirts worn inside out to hide the team logo - and wearing black socks and arm bands in an act of protest over alleged racist remarks made by the team's owner. 

Fans watching at the Champs Sports Pub and Grill in Burbank were equally upset and said Donald Sterling needs to go.

"I was absolutely livid," said Clippers fan Tyler Berry, whose mother is African-American. "He really needs to be suspended, but ultimately he needs to be forced to sell the team."

In a recording made public by TMZ late Friday, a man the website identifies as Sterling asks his girlfriend in a phone call to stop bringing blacks to his games. TMZ has not said how it obtained the tape and the woman on the other end of the conversation, V. Stiviano, denied through her lawyer that she leaked it - but says it's authentic.

Berry said he's rethinking plans to buy Clippers tickets, and expects many minorities will do the same.

"No one's going to want to come play for the Clippers. Lots of people aren't going to want to come to the games next season," he said.

Burbank resident Rochelle Spruengli said it was a confusing day to be a Clippers fan. She wasn't ready to withdraw her support of the team during the playoffs, but she called Sterling's alleged comments stupid and ignorant.

"He shouldn't be the owner anymore, they need to get him out," she said.

The NBA said it won't discuss possible sanctions while it's still investigating the authenticity of the tape.

Michael McCann, the director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire, said the NBA has a few options — but it's got to start with verifying the tape.

"The NBA has to confirm that the recording is of Donald Sterling — and not only is of Donald Sterling — but that it wasn't doctored in a way that makes him look bad," said McCann, echoing NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's comments Saturday. "The NBA doesn't want to punish Donald Sterling unless it can be sure the recording is him."

Getting it may be tricky, though. McCann said TMZ is not obligated to turn it over to the NBA.

In a written statement, the team's president insinuated that the tapes were doctored, saying they don't express Sterling's point of view and that Stiviano had vowed to seek revenge after Sterling's wife sued her.

RELATED: NBA commissioner on Clippers owner Donald Sterling's alleged racist remarks: No sanctions yet

If it is him, McCann said the NBA's easiest option would be to slap Sterling with a hefty fine and give it to charity. He cautioned "may be seen as the weak penalty because Donald Sterling is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.9 billion."

He thinks a suspension is more likely.

"That would be a bolder step —it's one that the NBA hasn't taken but it's one that I think many people would fine to be justified, especially his own players who are clearly upset by the remarks that he allegedly made," McCann said.

Expulsion is another possibility, but one that would likely lead to a lawsuit, he said.

"The problem there would be that he would likely sue the NBA for breach of contract, his franchise agreement and potentially an anti-trust claim", he said. The anti-trust claim would be a result of NBA owners joining forces to push Sterling to sell his team at below market value.

RELATED: Obama: Reported comments by Clippers' owner Donald Sterling 'racist'

"Maybe there's an offer out there that would convince him to leave the NBA, especially given the controversy that he appears to have caused in this instance," McCain said. 

But once you get into the NBA, it's hard to be removed, he added. 

The recording released by TMZ captures an argument between a man — allegedly Sterling — and Stiviano where he takes her to task for posting a picture with Magic Johnson on Instagram and asks her to stop taking minorities to team games. 

The report instantly drew outrage from across the country — including President Barack Obama, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and NBA players like Kobe Bryant and Lebron James.

In a press conference Saturday night, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he was offended by the words, but urged for "due process." Clippers President Andy Roeser said Sterling regrets the remarks that have been attributed to him but he did not say that it's actually Sterling on the tape. 

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said players discussed boycotting Sunday's Game 4 of their playoff against Golden State during a team meeting, but quickly decided against it, according to a statement released by the team.

McCann said that didn't seem likely — but the players would be protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act if they chose to do that.

"It's difficult to punish somebody for objecting to essentially a racist work environment," he said, "so that could be a defense used by players." 

This story has been updated.

With contributions by KPCC staff

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