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Whatever Adam Silver does it will not be enough for some, but his hands are somewhat tied

Apr 28, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT

After years of just ignoring everything Donald Sterling has done — the housing discrimination lawsuits, the stories from former players and front office personnel of racist behavior — the NBA seems finally ready to act on the alleged racist comments by Sterling.

If the consciously non-political Michael Jordan is calling for action, you can bet a lot of other owners are pushing for something to be done. They want this mess cleaned up. This is a league that fines players for anything seen as vaguely detrimental to its image — don’t you celebrate a key bucket with the “big balls” dance — and what Sterling did, no matter how private the moment, is a huge black eye to the league.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he has “broad powers in place under the NBA’s constitution and bylaws that include a range of sanctions, and all of those will be considered depending on the findings of our investigation.”

However, Silver’s hands are somewhat tied — he can only do so much.

MORE: Silver discusses Sterling, vows quick investigation

What he can do will not be enough for some people.

Silver is limited by the NBA’s constitution, which is a private document. What has leaked out from people who have seen it paints a picture that ties Silver’s hands.

• He can’t force Sterling to sell. Essentially the league constitution says the league can only sell a team out from under an owner if said owner is not meeting his financial obligations (not paying his bills) and that is not an issue. Blake Griffin’s checks are clearing. What’s more, Sterling’s style — with his real estate holdings, with everything — is to buy and keep, not sell.

Maybe the other owners could try to force the issue saying, “We no longer want Sterling as a business partner” legal argument, but the very litigious Sterling likely would fight that. And it would get ugly. Or, uglier. And it would drag the issue out for years.

There has been talk the league could force him to hand over the team to his estranged wife as part of joint property laws… but she is her own piece of work. In some of the housing discrimination cases against Sterling it was learned she posed as a government health inspector to gain access to apartments. She was part of the problem.

• Silver can only fine Sterling up to $1 million. That’s the maximum, according to multiple reports. Sterling is worth $1.9 billion dollars according to Forbes, a $1 million fine to him is about the equivalent of you or I getting a parking ticket. It’s annoying, we don’t want to write the check, but it’s not that steep a hit.

• Suspension — this is the hammer Silver really can wield. He can suspend Sterling from any contact with the team or interacting with the front office, keep him from attending games. This would be the biggest blow — for Sterling games are a social, “kiss the ring” kind of event where the people around him gather to enjoy “his team” and “his games.” He basks in the celebrity of it. Take that away and it is more of a blow than any fine would be.

How long a suspension is the question. Through these playoffs for sure (which may not last that long for the Clippers, as distracted as they were Sunday). All of next season seems more reasonable … if Silver can do it. We don’t know what limits there could be on a suspension in the private constitution, but none have been mentioned.

A suspension and fine will not make everyone happy — it does not seem enough for a history of racist issues. This is why David Stern should have dealt with the issue when he could, when he had more serious public offenses that were clearly actionable grounds by the league. But he didn’t, there wasn’t an outcry from the other owners to act. He was seen as the bad owner of a bad team, everyone just ignored him and Stern swept the issues under the rug.

Now it falls to Silver, and the case is based on the audiotape of a private conversation — something not admissible in a court of law (Sterling did not consent to be taped). Combine that with Sterling being very litigious and you have Silver stuck in a spot where no matter what he does some people will be unhappy with him. He has to come down as hard as he can, and even that will have some saying it’s not enough and possibly prompting a lawsuit against him from the other side.

Welcome to the big chair, Silver.

  1. hungryhungryhibbert - Apr 28, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    this article is so poorly written that it was obnoxious. confusing silver and sterling when they are two words apart?!

    • willkill4caffeine - Apr 28, 2014 at 2:24 PM

      I think when the top three comments on a story are in regards to the quality of the article, some serious consideration should be given to hiring an Editor. I work in the business, hint hint!

  2. jbeagles23 - Apr 28, 2014 at 10:27 AM

    I read it twice trying to follow. Sterling seems to be both people in every second sentence

  3. knickshater - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:01 AM

    Do you guys smoke crack when you are writing articles?

    • money2long - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:14 AM

      The Beatles are legends. Just saying

      • 1historian - Apr 28, 2014 at 1:02 PM

        We can work it out

  4. nyfootballgiants - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:32 AM

    One of the things that has troubled me through this process is the desire to lynch someone for their views.

    One of the things I have taught people who I have mentored is, that people are allowed to have different opinions that you do. People have been screaming that the league should force him to sell…. To be forced to donate a portion of his sales to certain causes, etc. All a very scary proposition.

    Look – this is how it should work out. The market will respond to his comments. Sponsors may choose to not advertise with him. Fans may choose to spend their money on other things besides tickets and merchandise. Players and coaches who have options – will choose to sign with other teams when their contracts expire.

    But people under contract now can not (and will not) withhold services because they don’t like the owner – unless they are retiring (which would prevent them from playing/coaching elsewhere). Since there are only so many NBA teams – there will always be players who will take a job with the Clips, because there are only so many places where you can make the money that a professional basketball player can make.

    Ultimately, I believe the market will force Stirling to sell. But, if he chooses to ride this out – then there is no reason the league should force him to sell. IF they do – what’s to stop them in the future from forcing Cuban to sell – (due to all of the fines he has received), or forcing Dolan to sell (which as a Knicks fan, I can see some value in – but realize that it is a bad precedent), etc.

    • jziii - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:43 AM

      “One of the things that has troubled me through this process is the desire to lynch someone for their views.”


      • spursareold - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:46 AM

        1) No one is being lynched.
        2) If your views are abhorent to most people, expect to hear about it. That’s THEIR view, and they are just as entitled to it. Life is not lived without consequences.

    • spursareold - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:43 AM

      Didn’t read the article, did you?

      • spursareold - Apr 28, 2014 at 12:22 PM

        • He can’t force Sterling to sell. Essentially the league constitution says the league can only sell a team out from under an owner if said owner is not meeting his financial obligations (not paying his bills) and that is not an issue.

    • knickshater - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:47 AM

      Sorry, but you cannot place the behaviour of the likes of Cuban and Dolan (one merely a loudmouth and the other simply a clueless idiot) in the same league as Sterling. It’s not like this is the first time Sterling’s racism has been exposed. He has a long and ugly rap-sheet on that front.

      • jziii - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:53 AM

        He wasn’t equating Sterling to Cuban or Dolan. He was saying that if you get rid of one person because of their unpopular views or personality, then where does it stop?

  5. jziii - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:51 AM

    1) No one is being lynched.
    2) If your views are abhorent to most people, expect to hear about it. That’s THEIR view, and they are just as entitled to it. Life is not lived without consequences.

    I think you are missing the point of both of our comments, or maybe just ignoring them—if you read them in the first place. I am sure Sterling has “heard about it,” and I hope all of the public outrage is humiliating to him. He sounds like a miserable human being who deserves the public scorn. But there is a big divide between that and forcing him to sell his multimillion-dollar profession. That was the point I was trying to make.

    • spursareold - Apr 28, 2014 at 12:21 PM

      Apparently you didn’t read the part where the NBA CANNOT FORCE A SALE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.

      • jziii - Apr 28, 2014 at 1:56 PM

        Yes, I did. Apparently you didn’t read this:

        “He and I were both referring to other, previous commentary about this subject, including views expressed by the author of this piece.”

      • nyfootballgiants - Apr 28, 2014 at 1:57 PM

        That hasn’t stopped many people for calling for the league to force him to sell.

  6. fanofthegame79 - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:52 AM

    Frankly, some views shouldn’t be had. I’m a firm believer that everyone should not be entitled to an opinion.

    • jziii - Apr 28, 2014 at 12:00 PM

      I agree. As long as it’s me who gets to decide who gets to have which opinions.

    • azarkhan - Apr 28, 2014 at 12:06 PM

      I agree. So let’s start with you. I don’t want you to ever write or voice an opinion here or anywhere else again!

      • fanofthegame79 - Apr 28, 2014 at 9:49 PM


    • knickshater - Apr 28, 2014 at 12:10 PM

      North Korea would be a great place for you, friend.

      • jziii - Apr 28, 2014 at 1:53 PM

        I was being sarcastic. I think the person I replied to was being sarcastic, too. Point being that if you’re are going to start saying whose opinions are not acceptable, who is the one to decide those things?

  7. jadaruler - Apr 28, 2014 at 12:05 PM

    Everyone knew about Sterling’s actions as a slumlord and did nothing. People knew about the Baylor lawsuit and ignored it because they felt Elgin was a terrible gm so his lawsuit wasn’t valid. His views have been well known and the NAACP was going to give the sob an award.

    Now that audio has been released we want to get rid of him. It should have been done a long time ago. David Stern let him sit on his throne for decades. He should be vilified along with Stern.

    • knickshater - Apr 28, 2014 at 12:09 PM

      Completely agree. The ironic thing is that this lizard has said/done far worse things but all these years no one said a damn thing.

  8. dbfan4ever - Apr 28, 2014 at 12:27 PM

    I don’t understand the nba teams are a franchise and as such they rep the nba (company) it seems toe that they can yank a franchise away from someone if they hurt the company! Anything less than Sterling losing the ownership of the Clippers is unacceptable!!

    • realfootballfan - Apr 28, 2014 at 1:07 PM

      Completely agree. Threaten to contract his team and see if he’s steadfast in staying owner instead of selling before it’s dissolved. The other NBA owners have that leverage over him don’t they? Advertisers have started pulling out of the Clippers. This is a black mark for the whole league as long as they keep this deadweight around.

      • jziii - Apr 28, 2014 at 1:51 PM

        Wow. You are truly an enlightened individual.

  9. rcali - Apr 28, 2014 at 12:45 PM

    “Tornadoes kill dozens in Arkansas yesterday.” There, I just put all of this in perspective for everybody. Hope you and yours were not affected by this tragedy.

  10. 1historian - Apr 28, 2014 at 1:06 PM

    let’s not forget that us white folks lost the monopoly on being racist, indeed it could be argued that we never had it.

    al sharpton, jesse jackson, barack obama, et al.

    Sterling may or may not be compared to the south end of a northbound horse, but the checks don’t bounce.

    The only reasonable response to this silly little farce is empty seats at game #5.

    • jziii - Apr 28, 2014 at 1:59 PM

      I agree that boycotting him, but that’s still a win for Sterling because these people have already bought their tickets.

      • fpstratton - Apr 28, 2014 at 4:58 PM

        Absolutely. The fact is that, under those circumstances, boycotts really don’t work. Unfortunately, I think the genie is out of the bottle. This guy is rolling in money, and when you’re rich and famous, that’s more than enough. Sterling may even get a reality show out of his hateful racism.

  11. bballhistorian - Apr 28, 2014 at 1:48 PM

    NBA governing body can’t force him to sell, but the players, fans, sponsors can make the most impact.

    A boycott would be great, but players are under contract…and in a playoff run.

    Sponsors are now leaving him. I don’t think he cares much (he’s worth more that 1 billion).

    Either way, by him saying what he said in league with more than 75% African Americans, he will realize its time to make the profit by selling and moving on with life with whatever he has left with his family.

  12. lawrinson20 - Apr 28, 2014 at 2:17 PM

    The repercussions will be of the ‘Sun City’ variety.
    • No free agents will sign with the Clippers.
    • Current players will not re-sign with the Clippers.
    • Whatever advertising and sponsorship deals that are currently in place will not be renewed.
    • Sterling will not be welcomed at any hoops-related events or activities — the luster of his millionaireship will be lost. He’s a pariah now. With time, people forgot about his previous issues. I know I did…. This, though, is much larger, and the players and media have the ability (responsibility) to see that it remains in the public eye until he voluntarily divests.
    • The franchise value will take a hit, and Sterling will find it ‘opportune’ to sell.

    What’s ironic and sad is that he bought the team for 20 million and will sell for a billion. When the rich do stupid things, they just seem to make more money.

  13. dreamer5873 - Apr 28, 2014 at 4:08 PM

    Punishment? I don’t know, but what disturbs me the most is that a friend of his called and told him about the actions of his girlfriend. The friend was basically telling Sterling to keep his N$&&) in check. What bothers me is who is that friend? Was it the owner of another NBA franchise?

  14. fpstratton - Apr 28, 2014 at 4:39 PM

    Of course, Silver’s hands are tied. The owners hired him! It must be the other owners who act in this case, and I’m not sure they will. Welcome to free enterprise! Sterling owns the team. No matter how much of a jerk he is, and a racist one at that, The Clippers are legally his. I feel terrible for the Clipper players, who have accomplished so much this year. I am still rooting for them. When I go see a sporting event, I really don’t think about who the owner is or what he stands for. I am there to be entertained. Donald Sterling has always been this way. He should never have been allowed into the NBA owner family, but now that he’s in, little can really be done unless the other owners unanimously want to vote him off the island.

  15. corvusrex96 - Apr 28, 2014 at 6:14 PM

    Interesting that the girl who made the tape had connections to magic Johnson and low and behold he wants to buy the team

    • jollyjoker2 - Apr 28, 2014 at 6:25 PM

      it could be an inside job but this sterling guy has to prove it…fake tape or whatever. Otherwise, he will have trouble getting out of this comment. I mean, I can think about all sorts of stuff – but saying it out loud or over the phone etc is all game.

    • realfootballfan - Apr 28, 2014 at 7:32 PM

      Yea, I’m sure Magic has been staying up at night waiting for the moment he’d be able to pounce and buy the mighty Clippers. Hold on while I stop laughing. I wish some of you would get off the “tape doctoring” nonsense. Dude has a racism resume longer than a hospital bill.

  16. djstat - Apr 28, 2014 at 8:08 PM

    How about give all clippers players right to void their contracts with pay.

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