Silver's ban spot on; making Sterling go away won't be quite as easy
Adam Silver made a decisive statement on Tuesday, but bigger hurdles may be ahead in the process to remove Donald Sterling.
NEW YORK -- In his first big test as NBA commissioner, Adam Silver was decisive, severe, appropriately emotional and ... well, just about perfect.
Echoing the comments of his league's biggest star, LeBron James, Silver made it clear Tuesday that there is no place in the NBA for the kind of vile, sickening beliefs uttered by Clippers owner Donald Sterling on an audio recording that shook the basketball world to its core. Once Silver's investigation determined that the comments were unequivocally Sterling's, the new commissioner hit him as hard as he could -- with a lifetime ban.
Bravo. Simply, bravo.
But what now? One of the most embarrassing moments in NBA history now will wind its way through the same rules, legal language and governing bodies that approved Sterling's purchase of the Clippers in 1981 and tolerated him for decades despite multiple clues as to the depths of his depravity. Silver said he has the authority, given to him by the owners in the NBA's Constitution and By-Laws, to ban Sterling for life -- thus removing him from any involvement in the Clippers' day-to-day operations and keeping him away from any NBA facility until he dies.
But based on Silver's presumably astute reading of those by-laws, the power to force Sterling to sell his team and go away for good rests solely with the other owners. So the process of making arrangements for the forced sale of Sterling's team will begin immediately, Silver said. A three-fourths vote of the full Board of Governors (one representative from each of the 30 teams) is required to terminate Sterling's ownership.
It all seems so simple, appropriate and just -- except for one problem. That would be the guy who has been the problem all along: Donald T. Sterling.
Getting 22 of the other 29 board members (75 percent) to vote with Silver on terminating Sterling's ownership interest in the team won't be an issue. Frankly, can you imagine any team voting against the commissioner on the removal of a business partner who harbors such despicable views?
Not even the team that Sterling still technically owns stands with him. Minutes after the announcement, the Clippers -- now being run by Sterling's son-in-law and the team president, Andy Roeser, according to a league executive -- issued a statement saying they "wholeheartedly support and embrace" Silver's decision. Hours before a crucial Game 5 in their first-round series against the Golden State Warriors -- at home in Staples Center -- the team stripped its website bare and powerfully redirected clicks to a blank page with only the team's logo and the words, "We Are One."
But none of this means Sterling agrees with, embraces or will even accept any of what Silver has done here -- or what the board will do in the coming weeks. In fact, moments before the announcement, FOX News contributor Jim Gray reported that he'd just spoken on the phone with Sterling, who told him, "The team is not for sale."
The months and potentially years ahead could be fraught with injunctions, federal lawsuits and an ugly legal mess that could threaten the healing process the NBA so desperately needs.
Sterling spoke with the commissioner's office during the league investigation and admitted that the comments were his, Silver said. But neither Sterling nor anyone on his behalf gave the league any assurances that he wouldn't challenge Silver's ruling or sue the league and/or his fellow owners, a league official told CBSSports.com.
Further complicating matters, Sterling is still married to his wife of 50 years, Shelly. Silver said his banishment and recommendation of a forced sale to the Board of Governors applied specifically to Donald Sterling, not any other member of his family. Laws governing marital property in the state of California, as in the sale of the Dodgers out of bankruptcy from Frank McCourt to a group led by Magic Johnson, could come into play. That situation, however, was different because McCourt and his wife, Jamie, agreed to a divorce prior to the sale.
As for Johnson, who has been floated as a potential buyer for the Clippers -- at a price tag believed to be close to $1 billion -- Silver said, "Magic Johnson knows he's always welcome as an owner in this league."
Silver's banishment of Sterling is "final, binding and conclusive" as well as "enforceable in a court of competent jurisdiction in accordance with the laws of the State of New York," according to the Constitution and By-Laws, which the NBA published on its media website Tuesday. It is not clear which section of the constitution Silver used to ban Sterling, though it is Article 24, describing the authority and duties of the commissioner, that sets the maximum fine at $2.5 million and provides a limitless authority to suspend "where a situation arises which is not covered in the Constitution and By-Laws."
The procedure for the board to terminate Sterling's ownership is complicated, but potentially swift.
According to Article 14, Silver has three days to furnish a copy of the charges to Sterling as they relate to the possible termination of his ownership. Sterling would then have five days to file a written response to the charges.
Silver would then furnish the charges and Sterling's written responses to each board member within 10 days of receiving Sterling's answers and call a special meeting of the board. The presiding officer would be the chairman of the board, currently Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, who is serving in place of Spurs owner Peter Holt, who recently stepped down.
Under the shortest version of that timetable, Sterling could find himself in front of the board with his ownership interest in stake by mid-to-late May.
At the hearing, Sterling would have the right to be represented by a lawyer. Any and all evidence could be considered. A three-fourths vote to sustain the charges against Sterling would automatically terminate his ownership. Alternatively, a motion made and seconded could bring the matter to a vote by which two-thirds of the board could terminate him or invoke an alternative penalty, such as a fine or forfeiture of draft picks.
As for the basis of the punishment, Silver said the lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine -- the maximum allowed -- was based solely on this incident and the damage it has done to the NBA. When the owners convene to consider terminating Sterling's membership in the NBA, however, Silver said, "They will take into account a lifetime of behavior."
Depending on how hard Sterling wants to fight, it could take the rest of his lifetime in lawsuits, as well.
Meanwhile, statements of support for Silver's ban and utter condemnation for Sterling flowed in from all corners of the sport on Tuesday. It was a cleansing, exterminating moment, a massive test for the new commissioner to right the wrongs of the old commissioner and get Sterling on his way out of the game for good. As one team executive texted after the announcement: "Silver hit a home run today." And that's indisputably true. The sad fact, though, is that he can't round the bases just yet.
The NBA has heard the last of Sterling's hateful views, and the celebration for that rang out far and wide on Tuesday - clarion call for justice. Sadly, we haven't heard the last of Donald Sterling himself.
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