The NBA swept aside the longtime lieutenant of Clippers owner Donald Sterling on Tuesday, beginning the process of taking over the team and moving a step closer to ousting Sterling himself.
Andy Roeser, the team's president, will take an indefinite leave of absence, the NBA announced. Roeser's departure clears the way for the league to appoint an interim chief executive to oversee the franchise while the owners vote to force Sterling to sell the team.
"This will provide an opportunity for a new CEO to begin on a clean slate and for the team to stabilize under difficult circumstances," NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement.
Shortly afterward, Sterling's wife, Shelly, issued a statement endorsing the NBA's action, saying it was painful but "necessary as we move forward with the NBA to make the Clippers organization one of the most professional and successful franchises in all of sports."
Although Shelly Sterling and her husband jointly own the team, her statement caught Clippers management by surprise. The statement, issued through a law firm, also said she is working with the NBA in the search for the new chief executive.
The NBA declined to comment on Shelly Sterling's interactions with the league.
Talking to reporters in Oklahoma City, where the Clippers are in the second round of the playoffs, Coach Doc Rivers, who is also senior vice president for basketball operations, said he was surprised but pleased by the move.
"I think the NBA is doing their job and we're just trying to keep things together," he said.
NBA officials spent several days at the Clippers' offices, interviewing employees about Sterling and, to a lesser extent, Roeser.
The league originally had said that Roeser and Rivers would operate the team together.
For now, the Clippers' day-to-day operations will be overseen by the senior management team already in place, including Rivers and the department heads in charge of marketing, finance, sponsorship and ticket sales, the NBA said.
Roeser, when reached at his home Tuesday, declined to comment.
The franchise has been in turmoil since TMZ released a recording of Sterling making comments about blacks in a conversation with a female friend, V. Stiviano.
Roeser's reaction angered many people inside and outside the organization. The 54-year-old executive suggested the recording was leaked by someone who wanted to "get even" with Sterling.
"We do not know if it is legitimate or it has been altered," Roeser said in a statement. "Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect, his views, beliefs or feelings."
The statement "rubbed a lot of people the wrong way" within the franchise, Rivers said.
The NBA verified the recording a few days later. Commissioner Adam Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million and banned him for life from any dealings with the league or his franchise. The commissioner also urged the other owners, through their Board of Governors, to force Sterling to sell the team.
The board's advisory committee met last week and unanimously agreed to begin that process. The NBA constitution and by-laws state that, with a three-quarters vote, the board can force an owner to sell.
Sterling, who declined to comment, is expected to file a lawsuit to maintain control of his team.
He bought the Clippers in 1981, and is the NBA's longest-tenured owner. Roeser was an alternate governor for the team and one of the league's longest-tenured executives.
It was 1984 when Roeser, an accountant at Ernst & Young, caught Sterling's eye and accepted a position with the basketball franchise. Two years later, Sterling promoted him to executive vice president in charge of business operations.
As president, he helped to hire Rivers away from the Boston Celtics and acquire All-Star guard Chris Paul. He also ran the team's charity foundation and oversaw the construction of a practice facility.
Roeser's departure could bring further distraction to a team that has dealt with controversy while winning a first-round series against the Golden State Warriors and taking a 1-0 lead in its current best-of-seven matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
This is not the first time that a local sports franchise has faced the tumult of a league takeover.
In 2011, Major League Baseball appointed a trustee to oversee day-to-day operations of the Dodgers while officials sought to force owner Frank McCourt out.
"I'm here to get the organization running again, to the point where people don't know who's in the front office," said the appointee, Tom Schieffer.
McCourt subsequently took the franchise into U.S. Bankruptcy Court and kicked Schieffer out of Dodger Stadium. Several months later, the embattled owner agreed to sell the team in an auction that he — not the league — would control.
The NBA has also been down this path before.
In 2010, the league appointed an administrator to run the New Orleans Hornets. But that move was supported by owner George Shinn, who was struggling with limited financial resources.
Times staff writers Nathan Fenno, Bill Shaikin, Joe Mozingo and Stuart Pfeifer contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times