By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Los Angeles Clippers President Andy Roeser has taken an indefinite leave of absence a week after the National Basketball Association moved to expel his boss, team owner Donald Sterling, for making racist comments, the NBA said on Tuesday.
Roeser’s leave, effective immediately, marked the latest in a flurry of action paving the way for the league to install new management for the team and to force its sale, as urged by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on April 29 when he declared Sterling banned for life.
The NBA initiated the process on Thursday when a committee of 10 fellow team owners or their representatives voted unanimously to proceed “as expeditiously as possible” to terminate Sterling’s ownership.
On Saturday, the league said it planned to appoint a chief executive officer to supervise day-to-day operations of the Clippers while plans were drawn up for selling the franchise.
Roeser’s departure “will provide an opportunity for a new CEO to begin on a clean slate and for the team to stabilize under difficult circumstances,” the NBA said in a statement announcing the latest move.
One of the longest-tenured executives in the NBA, Roeser, 54, joined the Clippers in 1984, the year the team moved from San Diego to Los Angeles. He was in charge of the club’s business operations since 1986, his official biography says.
He assumed the role of team president in 2007 and also served as an NBA “alternate governor,” meaning he could act as Sterling’s proxy on the league’s governing board of team owners.
Whether Roeser placed himself on leave or was pressured to do so, “stepping aside was probably the right thing to do,” said Paul Swangard, managing director of the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center.
“There’s certainly some risk (to the NBA) that a lame-duck executive could choose to operate the franchise in a way that’s counter to the league’s wishes” pending a sale, he said.
Sterling, 80, who has owned the team for 33 years, came under fire on April 25 when the website TMZ.com posted an audio recording with a voice said to be his making derogatory remarks about black people.
The first official statement from the team about the tape was released the following day, in which Roeser questioned whether the recording was legitimate or had been doctored and said the tape did not reflect Sterling’s views or feelings.
Three days later, under a firestorm of outrage from players, fans and commercial sponsors, Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million and banned him from pro basketball, saying Sterling had acknowledged to the NBA that the recording was authentic and had not offered an apology.
Silver also called on the league’s 29 other owners to take the unprecedented step under the NBA’s constitution and bylaws of forcing Sterling to relinquish ownership of the Clippers. Such a move requires a three-fourths majority of the board.
Sterling has not spoken publicly about the scandal. But legal experts have said they do not expect him to give up the team, which he purchased in 1981 for $13 million when it was based in San Diego, without a fight. Experts have estimated the franchise could now be worth as much as $1 billion.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Eric Walsh and Cynthia Osterman)