History buffs and persons with access to the LA Times archives might be amused to learn that this week’s suspension-for-life of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling marked the second time Sterling’s recorded comments caused the NBA to consider his banishment. The LA Times’ Nathan Fenno writes that a committee of 6 fellow owners unanimously recommended he be banned in September 1982. At the time, the league was aggravated over Sterling’s failure to pay bills on time, along with mooted plans to move the franchise to Los Angeles from San Diego, but the real smoking gun, so to speak, was (ta-da) an audiotape :
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 columnist 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.