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NBA officials set to address Clippers owner racial controversy

By Scott Malone

NEW YORK (Reuters) - National Basketball Association officials on Tuesday will try to calm public outrage over racist comments attributed to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, with a long suspension from the game one possible penalty he faces.

The league moved quickly to address the scandal, which broke over the weekend when Website TMZ.com published a 10-minute recording in which a voice said to be Sterling's criticized a friend for associating with "black people."

The news prompted a wave of outrage from athletes, coaches and fans of the league, which was a leader in racial integration in U.S. sports. President Barack Obama called the comments "incredibly offensive racist statements," while House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner described them as “reprehensible.”

The crisis is the first major test of Adam Silver, who took over as NBA commissioner in February, succeeding David Stern.

Silver has scheduled a news conference for 2 p.m. (1800 GMT) in New York.

The NBA's constitution, which is not a public document, is believed to give Silver broad authority in deciding how to handle the issue, though his moves will need the support of the owners of the other 29 franchises.

"My guess is we're going to look at a severe suspension - he could be suspended indefinitely - and fined up to $2.5 million," said Robert Boland, chairman of the sports management department at New York University.

A lifetime suspension would effectively make Sterling a silent owner of the team, no longer involved in daily management and no longer a governor of the league, with a caretaker named to run the organization.

It would be far less likely for the NBA to try to strip Sterling of ownership, which would likely raise flags among the other owners, Boland said. The longest-tenured owner in the league, Sterling bought Clippers in 1981 at a time when basketball was a far less commercially successful business than it is today, and the franchise could now be worth as much as $800 million, Boland estimated.

Team sponsors moved quicker than the league itself, with auto dealer CarMax Inc, Virgin America, State Farm, Kia Motors America, music mogul P. Diddy's water brand, AQUAHydrate, Red Bull and Yokohama Tire all saying they were stepping back from the team on Monday.

Sterling, who made his fortune in real estate, has not issued any public statements since the comments were first reported late on Friday.

The recording on TMZ.com appears to be part of an argument between Sterling and a model who uses the name V. Stiviano about photographs posted to Instagram. "People call you and tell you that I have black people on my Instagram. And it bothers you," the voice said to be Stiviano's says.

The woman also notes in the conversation that she is of Latino and black heritage.

"Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to promo ... broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?" the voice said to be Sterling's says. The same voice is heard telling the woman not to post photos of herself with Earvin "Magic" Johnson, the former Los Angeles Laker. "And don't bring him to my games, OK?"

Basketball stars ranging from Kobe Bryant, whose Los Angeles Lakers play in the same arena as the Clippers, to former player and current mayor of Sacramento, California, Kevin Johnson have criticized the comments, with Bryant saying on Twitter there is "no way" Sterling should continue to own the team.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Grant McCool)

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