Kevin Johnson: NBA Players Demand "Maximum" Sanction in Sterling Case

The special adviser to the National Basketball Player's Association says the league has reached a "defining moment"

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    Sacramento Mayor and special adviser to the National Basketball Player's Association Kevin Johnson said Monday that players are calling for the most "severe sanction possible" in the wake of racist comments allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

    Johnson, who played 13 seasons in the NBA, said he met Sunday with league commissioner Adam Silver about the response to audio tapes obtained by TMZ Sports on which a man who TMZ identifies as Sterling tells his girlfriend that he doesn't want her to be seen in public with black people. NBC News has not been able to authenticate the audio tape and a similar recording released by Deadspin that Deadspin claims is an extended version of the conversation.

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    Johnson told NBC's TODAY Show Monday that player representatives asked him to communicate to Silver -- who became NBA commissioner Feb. 1 -- that they want to "make sure those tapes are legitimate" and that Sterling should face the most "severe sanction" possible.

    Johnson was asked during the TODAY Show interview whether the league can strip Sterling of his team ownership.

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    "I think it's a good question," Johnson said. "From the players' standpoint, whatever the maximum that's allowable is what we want the commissioner to impose.

    "It's very clear that all of our players in the league want to explore the option. What player exactly would want to play for this owner?"

    Johnson called the investigation a "defining moment" for the NBA.

    The NBA constitution is not public, though it is understood the commissioner's powers are broad when it comes to dealing with matters deemed "prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of basketball," according to the Associated Press. A fine, a suspension, a demand for sensitivity training and other options are likely at Silver's disposal.

    Johnson said he told Silver that player are adamant that Sterling not be allowed to attend any playoff games. The Clippers take on Golden State Tuesday in the first game in Los Angeles since the release of the audio.

    Johnson said Sterling would be an "enormous distraction" if he attended any NBA games during the playoffs. Sterling did not attend Sunday's game -- a blowout loss at Golden State -- but his wife, who has filed suit against the woman alleged to be on the tape, was present. 

    Attorneys for the woman, V. Stiviano, said in a news release Sunday that the audio tapes released by TMZ and Deadspin are legitimate and part of a longer recording about one hour in length. Stiviano’s attorney denied that his client leaked the recording to the news news media.

    Andy Roeser, Clippers president, released the following statement:  "Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life."