Fine, suspension may be most NBA can do

By David Aldridge, TNT

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VIDEO: The Inside the NBA members discuss the Donald Sterling matter

The most likely scenario for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to discipline L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling is to use a provision of the NBA constitution that allows the Commissioner to suspend a team employee indefinitely and fine him up to $1 million. That appears, according to sources familiar with the NBA’s little-seen internal rules, to be the most the NBA can do to hit an owner for something said, as opposed to something done.

There are provisions for the NBA’s Board of Governors, with the votes of three-quarters of the league’s owners — 24 — to terminate the ownership of an individual and remove him as owner. But those provisions do not seem to apply here under even generous interpretation of the league’s rules.

Owners can be removed, under Section A 13 of the NBA’s Constitution, under the heading “Termination of Ownership or Membership.” An owner can be voted out, essentially, if he or she willfully violates the NBA’s Constitution or Bylaws; transfers ownership of his or her team without permission or approval; fails to pay his or her debts; is found to be attempting to fix games and/or has severe gambling debts, or disbands his or her team during the season.

Sterling is under investigation for allegedly making racially outrageous remarks to a woman purported to be his girlfriend. In one section of the tape, which was acquired by the website TMZ.com last Friday, the man on the tape believed to be Sterling tells the woman he doesn’t want her posting photos of her with Hall of Fame player Magic Johnson, and not to bring Johnson or other African-Americans to Clippers games.

The salient provision in the Constitution that Silver is likely to use is Section 35A (d): “Misconduct of Persons Other Than Players.” As player conduct and league penalties for conduct violations are all subject to collective bargaining negotiations, the behavior of all other team and league employees, including coaches and referees, is covered under 35A (d).

This is the key phrase: the Commissioner can fine anyone up to $1 million, and suspend — either for a definite or indefinite period — anyone who makes statements deemed to be “prejudicial or detrimental to the Association,” and/or detrimental to the best interests of basketball.

But it’s unlikely Silver could use a violation of 35A (d) to then remove Sterling through A13.

“None of these [provisions for removal] are at issue here,” said one source familiar with the league’s constitution.

An open-ended suspension could give the league time to line up potential buyers for the Clippers, while trying to convince Sterling that this is the time to sell the team. The league, under former commissioner David Stern, made it clear to the Sacramento Kings’ former owners, the Maloof family, that it would not allow them to sell the team last year to a Seattle group that planned to move the team there. The Maloofs ultimately sold the team to the NBA’s preferred group, led by software tycoon Vivek Ranadive.

Sterling bought the then San Diego Clippers in the early ‘80s from Irv Levin, who’d acquired them in the infamous “team swap” with John Y. Brown, who was the owner of the Buffalo Braves when he assumed control of the Celtics from Levin in exchange for Buffalo. Levin then moved the Braves to San Diego, where they were rechristened the Clippers; Sterling moved them to Los Angeles in 1984.

Sterling’s only true friend among his fellow owners was the late Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who’d encouraged him to buy the Clippers from Levin. Sterling rarely came to Board of Governors meetings, and owners don’t often fraternize with each other. Almost all of the owners who could be considered contemporaries of Sterling have sold their team or passed away.

“I doubt Sterling cares what we think,” one owner said Monday afternoon.

25 Comments

  1. mikedude says:

    I’m not saying what Sterling said was right. But he does have the right to express his opinion. Did he do something that’s discriminatory towards blacks? Not that I know of. All he did was say that he dislike black people when talking with his girlfriend in a private setting. Why should the NBA have the right to fine him 2.5 million dollars and ban him from attending games. I bet there are a lot of extremely racist people attending NBA games. Why should the NBA have the right to force him to sell his property. The players can boycott or do some organized event. But NBA should have no right to punish him. Just my opinion.

  2. Sebastian says:

    Mr Aldridge, three quarters of 30 is 23 (22.5 rounded up). So at least 23 votes are needed, not 24.

  3. pad of ky says:

    although his comments are distateful,gross and utterly stupid,i really dont see how he can be forced to sell his team.he has free speech rights just as all the rest of us do.i DO NOT SUPPORT his comments,and think they have no place in society.however under our constitution he does have free speech rights.and forcing him to sell could be thrown out in the federal courts.he does have rights,and even though his actions are against NBA LAWS you still cant force aa guy to sell, i tell you now ,if he fights the courts will side with him on his right not to sell.but in the MEANTIME I FEEL ASHAMED THAT SUCH RACISM EXSISTS AND WILL ALWAYS EXCIST AS LONG AS CHRIST IS LEFT OUT OF OUR LIVES

  4. Thomas Rinaldi says:

    Barkley said he hates white people so when he gets upset about this on TNT it means nothing. He’s just as bad if not worse. There is no place in our presnet society for racism so Sterling should lose the Clippers and Barkley should be fired from TNT. Case closed.

  5. KG says:

    World is talking ab Donald Sterling..but what ab his Girl?
    She set him up..she sounds so careul and rational throughout the conversation.
    They were talking in private may be in bedroom.I admit, he said something stupid..but thats private talk.
    Just because of that I dont see a point for him to go away as owner.
    This is a set up…!!

    One can talk anything or may think anything.Its a private talk.

  6. mike says:

    i am an Asian (from Philippines) migrated here in USA last 2007. a legal alien from the other country and from the 1st year that ive been here and up to now, i can pretty much FEEL and SEE the racism from other individuals towards me. the feeling is really bad and unpleasant, but i have tried to be humble and to understand them (b’coz im an alien) and somehow i can pretty much get over it.. because i am blessed to be here in USA and for those people that i have worked for and the patients that i have taken care off, they have showed LOVE to me. americans are nice, lovely, sweet and respectable. i have church families and also i have friends from the park which i love hooping with them :)..

    about sterling? that is really unpleasant.. how can he do that to his fellow Americans? hhhmmm maybe he has a reasons? that we dont know? like groups of black americans hit him first? or did something bad to him? we dont know… but he did something distasteful that will make people disrespect him.

    i am trying to be a good citizen and hope that all of us in this country, each one of us will respect each other and will not do stuff that can make other disrespect us…

    GOD BLESS AMERICA

  7. Janice says:

    Ye without sin cast the first stone. His conversation should have never been taped without his permission. We all have made comments and now you want to crucify someone for making a racist comment. Everyone deserves a second chance. This is more than just about racism.

  8. NBAfan says:

    I think the NBA and all the people involved in this are overreacting, if you listened to the tape, this old man has not used any explicit racial slur or anything like that. In fact, he did not even say he hated minorities at first at all, he was led on and on by his mistress into saying some nonsense on race. Out of confusion or anger, he probably said something he normally wouldn’t have, certainly not in public.

    I think people all lost sight of the fact that this phone conversation could have been a trap set up by his mistress and some other unknown entity involved in bringing this old man down. In fact, the way the tape was recorded was through an illegal means. Also, what we say in private should be alright as long as it stays in private, don’t pretend that we all haven’t said or expressed some racist views in the comfort of our own homes. Blacks, whites, asians, and all people do it. If you do it in public, then I say punish the guy, but if he was illegally taped through a private conservation then don’t make such a big deal out of it like everyone is a high moral judge or something which we are not.

  9. Sammy says:

    I think what Sterling said was horrible. But he is not alone in his racism – How easy is it to forgive Barkley’s “This is why I hate white people” comment in 95. Yet Barkley is saying people who make comments like this are ignorant etc. I agree with him. And I also think he should look in the mirror when he says it.

    Barley’s Racist comment:
    http://articles.philly.com/1995-02-13/sports/25707025_1_phoenix-suns-star-suns-owner-jerry-colangelo-joke

  10. nirvana says:

    He is billionare, I don’t think heavy fine is an issue for him. The most important thing, is he have lost a respect from me and people around the world.

  11. Geronimo Heroa says:

    A fine would be an absolute joke to a billionaire and a slap in the face to African-Americans. Sterling must relinquish control of team immediately, and by force if necessary.

  12. cp10 says:

    If Donald Sterling doesn’t like minorities or prefers whites and latinas (as the great MJ certainly does), then that’s probably his problem, I don’t think he’s racist like he’s in the KKK or anything, he hasn’t discriminated against African-americans, doesn’t mean I like him either. But it’s funny how Magic is involved, a rival Laker who is a wealthy owner of the LA Sparks, who seems to be involved with the GF Stiviano, witha covert voice recording was taken. Just saying. Anyway, thanks David, I like reading your posts, please blog on NBA’s blog more often.

  13. Caution! Robot says:

    Listening to the Sterling tape it struck me how much he cares about appearances – he seemed to be saying do whatever you want with blacks but don’t publicly be seen with blacks, well for someone so shallow he is surely living in hell on earth right now. His name and face are everywhere in the worst way…and at age 80 not much time to make amends. This will be his legacy.

  14. ron says:

    Sterling could apologize and hand over ownership to a new owner.
    It is more about what he is going to do, then what NBA can do.

  15. Jorge says:

    Watching the video I have to say Kenny has the heart in the right place, but Chuck is right in saying that they cannot force him to sell. As I commented earlier, the market will force his hand if he doesn’t do the soul-searching suggested by Chuck. Let’s hope it is good news in 1 hr and Sterling decided to sell already.

  16. Right Said Fred says:

    The Commish should fine him heavily and then make all of the current Clippers employees’ contracts void for next season or allow them to opt out of their contracts. I think if that happens all of the players will bolt, and Sterling will be left with a team with no players. No one is going to want to play with that team. Sterling will have to beg D-league players to come and play for him. He will lose so much money that way and with sponsorships bailing that he will be forced to sell the team. Heck, I’ve always wanted to play for the NBA. I’m only 5’3 but once Sterling’s entire team opts out of their contacts, he could probably give me a call. I think I would make a good Center but my blocking skills are a little rusty.

  17. Jorge says:

    I was expecting this to be the case. While his comments are reprehensible, legally he is not likely to be liable for anything. That’s where the “market” would probably come in. Sponsors are already fleeing, and if ownership stops being attractive to him, he will eventually sell the team and the situation will fix itself. It is unfortunate that players and other employees have no real power to do anything, since while the recording is disgusting, it is not illegal. Hopefully Sterling will realize that it may be a good idea to remove himself from the equation. The question then is, who can buy the Clippers? half a billion dollars is not pocket change, and you would also want someone who maintained continuity for the franchise (ie. keeping it in LA.) At the end of the day, many bads will come out of this but the game will go on, and Sterling will not be part of the NBA for much longer; it’s just that the process will likely be slow and painful for many involved (players under him)

  18. diabloKKK says:

    the guy has a $2 billion networth, i dont think he cares what the world thinks about him let alone the NBA. Hes probably at home chillin poolside.

  19. YungMussuBlack says:

    You know what I want to say, right?

    • 4pt.Range says:

      You want to say “Fire Chuck, shaq, kenny, and keep the white whipping boy Ernie. Maybe bring in rodman, he’ll build ernie back up to man-size.”