NEW YORK - NBA commissioner Adam Silver delivered the swiftest, strongest penalty he could Tuesday, then called on NBA owners to force Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell the team for making racist comments that hurt the league.

Almost unanimously, owners supported the commissioner as he handed down one of the harshest penalties in the history of U.S. sports.

"We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling's views. They simply have no place in the NBA," Silver said at a news conference.

Sterling, 80, is banned for life from any association with the league or the Clippers, and was fined $2.5 million - the maximum allowable under the NBA constitution. If three-fourths of the other 29 owners agree to Silver's recommendation, Sterling will be forced to sell the team he has owned since 1981.

76ers managing owner Josh Harris said in a statement: "The Philadelphia 76ers completely support NBA commissioner Adam Silver. . . . There is no place for any type of discrimination in our society, and those hurtful and ignorant comments are contrary to the core values and beliefs of our ownership group and organization."

Messages seeking comment at Sterling's business office and with the Clippers were not immediately returned.

Players and others cheered Silver's quick action, which may have averted a players' boycot of playoff games, including Tuesday's Golden State Warriors-Clippers matchup, union officials said.

"We wanted to be a part of this decision, and we wanted Adam Silver to know where we stood," said Roger Mason Jr., the first vice president of the players' union. "And we were very clear that anything other than Sterling selling his team was not going to be enough for us."

Sterling's comments - which were recorded by his girlfriend and released by TMZ on Saturday - harmed the league, Silver said. Sponsors were threatening to abandon the NBA, and criticism was coming from fans on social media and even the White House.

Sterling criticized V. Stiviano - purportedly the female voice on the tapes - for posting pictures of her with black athletes Magic Johnson and Matt Kemp.

"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?" Sterling asks the woman on the tape.

"Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural, and multiethnic league," Silver said.

NBA great and Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan responded to Silver's ruling: "He sent a powerful message that there can be zero tolerance for racism and hatred in the NBA. I'm confident that the league, our players, and our fans will move on from this stronger and more unified."

The NBA's longest-tenured owner keeps his team for now - and Silver said he didn't know whether Sterling would fight to do so permanently.

But he can't attend games or practices, can't be involved in any personnel decisions, or participate in board of governors meetings.

Just three days after the scandal broke, and hours before the Clippers hosted their biggest game of the season, Silver apologized to some of the league's black pioneers while meting out a punishment he believed would satisfy outraged players and fans.

Silver said the ban applied only to Sterling, and there had been no discussions about whether he could sell to a family member.

Many owners supported Silver; none publicly defended Sterling.

"We applaud the firm punishment handed out today by NBA commissioner Adam Silver and appreciate the swiftness with which the NBA conducted its investigation," Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob said in a statement.

Billionaire media executive David Geffen is interested in buying the Clippers, an acquaintance said after Silver's announcement. Geffen, who previously expressed interest in buying the team, has a net worth of an estimated $6.2 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

And former 76ers president Pat Croce said on CNN: "I want to buy the team with Magic Johnson."

Sterling's fine will be donated to organizations dedicated to anti-discrimination and tolerance efforts, Silver said.

The owner, with an estimated net worth of about $2 billion, did not apologize for his remarks, Silver said, but confirmed he was the person on the audiotapes.

Silver, who took over as commissioner on Feb. 1, faced a crisis that threatened the league financially - with several companies ending or suspending their sponsorships of the Clippers - and, more important, socially.

Sterling's comments prompted an unprecedented level of outrage, particularly because the league could have done something sooner about the owner, who has faced federal charges of civil rights violations and racial discrimination in his business dealings.

"This has all happened in three days, and so I am hopeful there will be no long-term damage to the league and to the Clippers organization," Silver said. "But as I said earlier, I'm outraged so I certainly understand other people's outrage."

After the announcement, the Clippers' website had a simple message: "We are one."

"We wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision by the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver today. Now the healing process begins," the Clippers added in a statement.

Sterling's Clippers have been one of the most incompetent franchises in pro sports. But this team is a title contender led by Doc Rivers, a black coach whom Sterling brought from Boston and paid $7 million a year.

Rivers canceled practice Monday and declined a meeting request from Sterling. Rivers wouldn't address whether he would return next season if Sterling was still in control.

That might not be an issue if the owners vote to oust the owner.

Silver said that when he first heard the audio, he hoped it had been altered or was fake, but he thought it was Sterling.

"Whether or not these remarks were initially shared in private, they're now public, and they represent his views," Silver said.

Suspended, Banned Owners

Here is a look at some notable fines and suspensions of team owners around sports:

NBA

JERRY BUSS

The Lakers owner was suspended for two games and fined $25,000 in November 2007 after his conviction on a misdemeanor drunken-driving charge.

MARK CUBAN

The Mavericks owner has been fined about $1.5 million over the years.

GLEN TAYLOR

The Timberwolves owner was suspended for a year and the team fined $3.5 million and stripped of five No. 1 draft picks for a salary-cap infraction.

Major League Baseball

WILLIAM D. COX

The Phillies owner was banned for life in 1943 for betting on baseball games.

HORACE FOGEL

The Phillies owner was banned for life in 1912 after saying that the National League was corrupt and that umpires fixed games for the New York Giants.

MARGE SCHOTT

The Reds owner was suspended in 1993 for one year and fined $25,000 for racist and insensitive comments. In 1996, she was suspended for life after stating her support for Adolf Hitler. She sold the team in 1999.

GEORGE STEINBRENNER

The Yankees owner was suspended three times:

For two years for illegally supporting Richard Nixon's presidential campaign in 1972.

For one week in 1983 after publicly criticizing umpires.

For life in 1990 for hiring a gambler to follow Dave Winfield to find disparaging information to use against him in a lawsuit. He was reinstated from his lifetime ban in 1993.

TED TURNER

The Braves owner was suspended for one year in 1977 for a free-agency infraction.

NFL

EDDIE DEBARTOLO

The 49ers owner was suspended for one year after his 1998 felony conviction for failing to report extortion.

- Los Angeles TimesEndText