NBA charges Sterling, moves to terminate ownership

Donald's Sterling's wife, Shelly, said she would seek to preserve her ownership stake in the team. (USATSI)
Donald Sterling's wife, Shelly, said she would seek to preserve her ownership stake in the team. (USATSI)

UPDATED 9:46 p.m. ET

More: Magic Johnson responds to Sterling on CNN | Latest updates | NBA news

The NBA formally charged Clippers owner Donald Sterling on Monday with engaging in conduct that "damaged and continues to damage the NBA and its teams," beginning the process by which the team's ownership could be terminated by a three-fourths vote of the owners.

Under the league's Constitution and By-Laws, Sterling has until May 27 to respond to the charge and will be permitted to attend and present evidence at a hearing before the full board. The hearing is planned for June 3, two days before the start of the NBA Finals.

"If the NBA Board of Governors sustains the charge by a three-fourths vote, all ownership interests in the Clippers will be terminated and the team will be sold to new owners," the league said in a statement.

"The charge asserts that Mr. Sterling engaged in conduct that has damaged and continues to damage the NBA and its teams," the league said. "Among other things, Mr. Sterling disparaged African-Americans and 'minorities;' directed a female acquaintance not to associate publicly with African-Americans or to bring African-Americans to Clippers games; and criticized African-Americans for not supporting their communities."

The league said Sterling's "actions and positions significantly undermine" the NBA's diversity efforts and has damaged the league's relationships with fans, business partners and government and community leaders.

"Mr. Sterling engaged in other misconduct as well, including issuing a false and misleading press statement about this matter," the league said. "All of these acts provide grounds for termination under several provisions of the NBA Constitution and related agreements."

Later Monday, the NBA released a summary of the charges against the disgraced owner, in which the league asserted that not only had Sterling violated multiple articles of the Constitution and By-Laws and other agreements, but also destroyed evidence, provided false and misleading evidence to the NBA's investigator and issued a "misleading press statement regarding this matter."

Sterling's attorney, Maxwell Blecher, has challenged NBA commissioner Adam Silver's lifetime ban of the Clippers owner and promised to "adjudicate" the matter. In a letter to NBA general counsel Rick Buchanan, reported last week by SI.com, Blecher also said Sterling would not pay the $2.5 million fine levied against him.

Neither Sterling nor his attorney could be reached for comment on the NBA's formal action Monday.

Sterling's refusal to pay the fine is one of the violations cited by the NBA in its formal charge against Sterling. Under the Constitution and By-Laws, if an owner fails to pay "any dues or other indebtedness" within 30 days of written notice by the commissioner of default, that alone is grounds for ownership termination. In the summary of formal charges against Sterling, the NBA said Sterling already has been furnished written notice of default.

Sterling's wife, Shelly, has said she would seek to preserve her ownership stake in the team. But the language of the NBA's charge against Sterling makes it clear that a three-fourths vote by the owners would terminate all current interests in the team.

"Termination of LAC's entire membership – including Mrs. Sterling's interest in the
team – is called for by the Constitution and related agreements and is the only viable
means for bringing Mr. Sterling's interest in the Clippers to an end," the NBA states in the summary of charges. "Under the Constitution and related agreements, Mr. Sterling's words, actions, and views are attributable to and deemed to be the actions of LAC itself.

"More specifically, if the Board, by a 3/4 vote, sustains termination charges on the basis of Mr. Sterling's words, actions, and views, the Constitution calls for the entirety of LAC's
membership in the NBA to be 'automatically' terminated."

In addition to citing three specific articles of the league's Constitution and By-Laws as the basis for the team's ownership termination, the NBA cites New York law, under which "all member teams of the NBA owe each other a duty of loyalty to support the League in the attainment of its proper purposes. LAC breached this duty of loyalty through the acts described above, which were injurious, harmful, and disruptive to the NBA."

Also notable was the league's inclusion of statements Sterling made in a nationally televised interview on CNN among its grounds for termination. When Silver banned Sterling for life from the NBA on April 29 -- three days after a recording of Sterling making racially insensitive comments was published by TMZ -- he said the action was being taken solely against Sterling, and not against any other members of his family. But as for the termination of ownership by the board, Silver said Sterling's fellow owners would consider "a lifetime of conduct."

 
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