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With sponsors defecting, will NBA commissioner Adam Silver suspend Clippers owner Donald Sterling

Los Angeles Clippers team owner Donald Sterling watches

Los Angeles Clippers team owner Donald Sterling watches his team play in Los Angeles on Oct. 17, 2010. Credit: AP / Mark J. Terrill

Amid mounting pressure from sponsors, fans and players, NBA commissioner Adam Silver scheduled a news conference for Tuesday afternoon in Manhattan to discuss the league's investigation of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

Interested parties throughout the league will be tuning in to the nationally televised news conference to see what Silver plans to do about the 80-year-old Clippers owner, who is alleged by celebrity news organization TMZ to be the person who made racist comments to his girlfriend in an audio unveiled on the TMZ website late Friday night.

A suspension of indefinite length and a hefty fine -- Silver can issue one of up to $1 million without approval of owners -- are possible options. It remains unclear how far Silver's powers can reach at this point, even though the NBA constitution gives the commissioner's office a great deal of latitude to protect the game's best interests.

In the TMZ tape, a voice said to be Sterling's is heard telling his girlfriend not to bring black people to his games after she posted a photograph of herself with Hall of Famer Magic Johnson on Instagram.

On Monday, the first business day since the comments came to light, several sponsors said they were either ending or taking a break in their relationship with the Clippers. The mass exodus included CarMax, State Farm Insurance, Mercedes-Benz, Kia Motors America, Virgin America airline and Red Bull.

The sponsorship response wasn't limited to those associated with the Clippers. Anheuser-Busch, the official beer of the NBA, also released a statement saying that it was "disappointed to hear the alleged recent comments," adding that it trusts that the NBA "will take appropriate action."

Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who is black, said Monday that Sterling had reached out to him but that he had declined to take the call. He said he slept 45 minutes the night after the comments first came out and is anxious to see how the league handles the investigation.

"I think this is a defining moment, but I think we'll have more defining moments," Rivers said. "I think this is a very important decision. I hope that it's a very strong message, and I believe that it will be. But other than that, I'm just going to let the league do what it needs to do. And then after that, I think the players and myself will have a reaction."

Silver's news conference is scheduled for 2 p.m. Eastern time, 81/2 hours before Game 5 of the Clippers' playoff series against the Warriors.

Golden State coach Mark Jackson suggested that fans boycott the game at Los Angeles' Staples Center.

"I believe if it was me, I wouldn't come to the game," Jackson said. "I believe the fans, the loudest statement that they can make as fans is to not show up to the game."

Jackson said players have families to worry about and are getting paid to be there but fans "cannot allow someone with these feelings to profit."

Beside Rivers, the Clippers are led by black stars such as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford. The team considered boycotting Game 4 on Sunday but instead led a silent protest that involved piling their warm-ups on the floor, exposing inside-out T-shirts that hid the team's logo.

Showing solidarity with the Clippers, the Heat had a similar protest before Monday night's playoff game against the Bobcats in Charlotte. The players tossed their white T-shirts on the court and turned their red Heat warm-up jerseys inside out.

The controversy could take a toll on the Clippers, whose series is tied at 2 after they lost Game 4, 118-97. They canceled practice Monday, and in a conference call with reporters, Rivers made it clear how hard this has been for him and the team.

"Yeah, I believe he said those things," Rivers said of the tape. "I just would like to reiterate how disappointed I am in those comments that are attributed to our owner. I can't tell you how upset I am and our players are."

The Nets issued a statement Monday, saying the organization "has full confidence in commissioner Silver. And, while due process should be accorded in the investigation, one thing is not debatable: Racism must be fought wherever it is found. We stand with those who are tolerant and respectful of all people."

In the event the team eventually is put up for sale, there were reports that Magic Johnson's Guggenheim Partners group would be interested in buying it.

Johnson, however, denied any interest Monday night on Twitter, saying: "To NBA Fans, I want to put a stop to a rumor. I am not trying to buy the Clippers, they already have an owner."

With AP

New York Sports