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Being mayor, player aided KJ in Sterling push

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POSTED May 2, 2014 12:24 a.m.

SACRAMENTO (AP) — Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is on a winning streak.

The former NBA star led the city’s successful effort to keep the Kings from moving to Seattle and was recently sworn in as leader of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

But he scored what might have been his biggest victory when he represented NBA players in demanding one of the harshest penalties in the history of U.S. sports against Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, over racist remarks.

After intense lobbying by Johnson and numerous others, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling from the league for life, fined him $2.5 million, and said he would urge the NBA’s board of governors to make Sterling sell the Clippers.

“I hope that every bigot in this country sees what happened to Mr. Sterling and recognizes that if he can fall, so can you,” said Johnson, 48, who became Sacramento’s first African-American mayor in 2008, the same year the nation sent its first black president to the White House.

In targeting Sterling, Johnson used his unique experience as a former player and elected official to drive the discussions with NBA executives on behalf of the National Basketball Players Association.

NBA players were willing to take the unprecedented step of boycotting playoff games if the commissioner didn’t include the mandate for Sterling to sell the Clippers.

“For politicians, these moments happen and you either show you have it or you don’t,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who has worked with Johnson throughout the fight to keep the Kings in Sacramento. “It was a slam dunk when it came to demonstrating he has what it takes.”

Johnson, a playmaking point guard and scorer who played for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns from 1988 to 1999, called the Sterling scandal a defining moment for the NBA and said he was personally offended by the remarks.

“We may not have the power to force Mr. Sterling to sell his team, but make no mistake, we believe that Mr. Sterling should no longer have the privilege of being an owner of an NBA team,” Johnson wrote in a Facebook post before Silver handed down his punishment.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t know the mayor could speak so eloquently.

“My goodness,” Rivers said. “Just the rallying cry that this is not just about the Clippers or the Lakers or L.A. This is something bigger. It was great.”

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