LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Los Angeles Clippers President Andy Roeser is taking an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately, a week after club owner Ronald Sterling was banned from the National Basketball Association for racist comments, the NBA said on Tuesday.
Roeser’s leave, which comes days after the league moved to strip Sterling of his ownership, will “provide an opportunity for a new CEO to begin on a clean slate and for the team to stabilize under difficult circumstances,” league spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement.
One of the longest-tenured executives in the NBA after 30 seasons with the Clippers, Roeser, 54, had been in charge of all facets of the club’s business operations since 1986 and assumed the role of team president in 2007, according to his official biography.
Sterling, 80, who purchased the team three years before Roeser joined the front office, came under fire on April 25 when the website TMZ.com posted audio recordings in which a voice said to be that of Sterling was heard 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.
“Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings,” Roeser said, adding, “It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life.”
Three days later, under a firestorm of outrage from players, fans and commercial sponsors, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million and banned him from pro basketball for life, saying that Sterling had acknowledged to the NBA that the recording was authentic and had not offered an apology.
Silver also urged the league’s 29 other team owners to take the unprecedented step under the NBA’s constitution and bylaws of forcing Sterling to relinquish ownership of the Clippers. The NBA initiated that process last week, as 10 fellow owners or their proxies voted unanimously to proceed “as expeditiously as possible.”
Sterling has not spoken publicly about the scandal. But legal experts have said they do not expect him to give up ownership of his team, which he purchased in 1981 for $13 million when it was based in San Diego, without a fight. Experts have estimated the franchise, which moved to Los Angeles in 1984, could now be worth as much as $1 billion.
Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh