Ringo H.W. Chiu, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Several hours after owner Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA for life, the Los Angeles Clippers sprinted and soared through a playoff game as if a weight had been lifted from their collective shoulders.
The Clippers finished a tumultuous day with a 113-103 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night, leaving their home court to high-fives and standing ovations from fans enthralled by the prospect of watching an NBA title chase without Sterling in his front-row seat.
"We have a tough locker room, all of us are tough, but it almost brought out tears to your eyes just to feel the support from the fans," said Chris Paul, the Clippers' star point guard.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver delivered the extraordinary punishment to Sterling after a recording of racist statements by the real-estate mogul was made public several days ago.
The ban is one of the harshest penalties in the history of U.S. sports, but was met with near-universal acclaim from fellow owners, civil rights observers and NBA players who strongly contemplated a playoff boycott if Sterling wasn't punished harshly.
"The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful," Silver said while announcing his first major action as the league's commissioner. "That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage. Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural and multiethnic league."
Sterling was fined $2.5 million, the maximum allowable under the NBA constitution. Silver also will urge the NBA's board of governors to compel Sterling to sell the Clippers, and if three-fourths of the other 29 owners agree, the league's longest-tenured owner almost certainly will be forced to give up the team he has owned since 1981.
Sterling made no public comment about the ban, but the owner is among the most litigious people in sports. Team spokesman Seth Burton said in an email that the Clippers had no plans to issue a statement from Sterling on Tuesday, but the franchise released a statement "wholeheartedly" supporting Silver's decision.
While the league waited to see whether Sterling will fight to keep his team, the Clippers got back to basketball with a flourish.
Two days earlier, with news of Sterling's comments still fresh, the Clippers dumped their team warmup jerseys in a pile at center court in Oakland in a gesture of defiance against their owner before losing Game 4 of the series.
After Silver's announcement and an emotional team meeting, the Pacific Division champions methodically beat the Warriors to take a 3-2 series lead. Los Angeles is on the brink of just its third playoff series victory since Sterling bought this star-crossed team nearly 33 years ago.
"I was really proud of them," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought they were tired a lot tonight. I thought you could see them getting tired from all the emotional baggage over the last four days. They had great mental toughness tonight."
Even while Sterling contemplates his next move, the Clippers organization rushed to distance itself from Sterling. Shortly after Silver's announcement, the Clippers' website featured only a black screen with a simple message: "We are one." The mantra was repeated by the team's public-address announcers and chanted by their fans several times during their playoff game.
Sterling is banned from Staples Center and the Clippers' training complex in Playa Vista, a beautiful $60 million facility constructed by Sterling. He is prevented from participating in any decisions by the Clippers, or from any league activity, including board of governors meetings.
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