NBA tried to oust Donald Sterling in 1982 over recorded comments

The NBA has tried to remove Donald Sterling as Clippers owner once before.
(Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images)

This isn’t the first time the NBA has moved to oust Donald Sterling as Clippers owner.

A special committee of six NBA owners unanimously recommended Sterling’s removal in September 1982. Created after Sterling’s aborted attempt to relocate the franchise from San Diego to Los Angeles, the committee grew concerned about late payments by the Clippers to players, hotels, program printers and others. The NBA had previously sued Sterling to block that move.

But much of the controversy revolved around an audiotape.

Yes, 32 years before another recording led NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to ban Sterling for life and take steps to force the team’s sale, the owner’s words created trouble.


According to stories in The Times detailing the matter, the special committee focused on comments Sterling made to a luncheon earlier that year insisting the Clippers needed to finish last so they could draft a player like Ralph Sampson.

Sterling said at the time that the remarks were misunderstood. The NBA, however, fined him $10,000 and, when the committee met, it listened to recordings of the luncheon.

An NBA source went so far as to tell The Times: “He’s as good as gone.”

“The owners seem shocked,” Times reporter Randy Harvey wrote in September 1982, “he did not turn out to be the real thing. Perhaps they will scratch the surface the next time they need a new owner.”

The next step was for the league’s advisory and finance committee to consider terminating Sterling’s ownership. That’s the same committee meeting Thursday to discuss the same issue.

But eight days after the committee’s vote in 1982 Sterling announced his desire to sell the team. That bought time and the league’s effort to remove Sterling eventually lost steam.

By February 1983, then-NBA president David Stern described the franchise as being operated in a “first-class” fashion and said the league didn’t expect to further pursue the investigation.

Three decades later, the effort to rid the NBA of Sterling resumed.

Twitter: @nathanfenno