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NBA unites behind ousting Donald Sterling, but removing him will not be that simple

Apr 30, 2014, 3:40 AM EDT

The NBA is finally united. Nothing can get 29 owners, 450 players and legions of fans to agree on something…

Nothing except Donald Sterling.

New commissioner Adam Silver started to define his legacy when he brought the hammer down on the Clippers owner for his racist comments caught on tape — a lifetime ban, a $2.5 million fine, and plans by the league to force a sale of the franchise.

That last one is the big, bold move — forcing him to sell the team. Sterling loves owning a team, it is part of his identity, he will not willingly sell. However, under terms of the NBA’s constitution the league can force a sale if three quarters of the other NBA owners vote to do so — 23 of the other 29.

That’s not going to be a problem — within two hours of Silver’s press conference all 29 owners had come out in support of his actions. (You know a smart lawyer like Silver would never have said he was going this route without knowing he had the votes.)

“This kind of behavior can’t be allowed in the NBA by owners, players or anybody,” Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said to the Houston Chronicle. “This guy has no place in the family of the NBA. Whatever it takes, we have to make sure this kind of event never happens again.”

“In light of the serious matter facing our league, a matter that transcends sports, the New Orleans Pelicans fully support the decisions made today by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and will fully support his recommendations moving forward,” Pelicans owner Tom Benson said in a statement.

And so it went through every owner not named Sterling — even the Clippers released a statement saying they supported the decision.

If there is this kind of unified support when would a vote to oust Sterling happen? One owner told David Aldridge of NBA.com the latest is likely the annual owner’s meeting in July. Maybe earlier.

But it’s just not going to be that easy.

Donald Sterling told Jim Gray of Fox News earlier tonight the Clippers are “not for sale.” Sterling is an incredibly litigious person and most people around the league expect Sterling to fight this forced sale. He will do it in federal courts claiming the league is not following its own rules — the league has clear lines for selling a team where the owner was gambling on basketball or not paying his bills, neither of which are in question here. There is no “morals” clause but there is room to say Sterling was bad for business (the players were ready to boycott games and sponsors did pull out). However, lawyers say the wording in Sec. 13 of the constitution is vague, enough that Sterling can fight it. He will get injunctions, and he will drag it out and drag his feet. He will do everything he can to fight this, even if his options are limited. Ken Berger of CBSSports.com added that the fact Sterling’s wife of 50 years Shelly owns half the team complicates matters (it doesn’t matter that they are estranged as a couple, under California law half of what is his is hers, including the team).

With the courts involved, even if Adam Silver has the solid legal footing he says he does, it could take a year or more to get the sale okayed.

Silver took the bold steps and was able to unify the basketball world behind him in a way his predecessor David Stern never could. Now if he could maintain that unity and build on it that could lead to something special.

But getting rid of Sterling, that will be ugly and take a little time. Even with that unity.

  1. gbart22 - Apr 30, 2014 at 6:41 AM

    Sterling will and should fight to keep his team. Look I get ousting him and removing him from the head of the team but if the family wishes to keep the team they should be allowed to do so and just appoint a new figure head as the owner.

    The nba is opening itself up to a court battle that could drag on for years and Sterling could really muddy the waters as I’m sure he knows tons about the inner workings of the nba and about other owners and figures within the NBA. Does the nba really want this to carry on for years and for all of that dirty laundry to get out for public consumption and sterling is the type of guy who will put it all out there. I’m pretty sure there are things they don’t want the public to know about players, owners and management so they should tread carefully.

    • zerole00 - Apr 30, 2014 at 9:51 AM

      I’m sure the NBA doesn’t want to force the sale from a legal standpoint, but they were backed into a corner PR wise. It remains to be seen which is going ot cause them more trouble.

  2. kavika6 - Apr 30, 2014 at 7:23 AM

    If the races were reversed would this even be an issue?

  3. mikeinthevine - Apr 30, 2014 at 7:43 AM

    So what happens if he fights to keep the team and it drags on for a year? What if he can’t get anyone to play for him?

  4. kavika6 - Apr 30, 2014 at 8:34 AM

    I’m not defending the racist scumbag but haven’t most of us said something stupid during a private phone call at one time or another? When is his harlot going to be charged for distributing a private phone call to the media?

    • justbhouse2 - Apr 30, 2014 at 9:42 AM

      Agreed, although Silver stated his past had nothing to do with it, I don’t necessary believe it. I think it was 1/8 the statement, 1/8 the climate of the current culture, 1/16 his past actions, and 11/16 the loss of future potential advertising dollars

    • asimonetti88 - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:03 AM

      She will face criminal or civil suit from Sterling, no doubt about it.

      But like Silver said, while it was a private conversation, it did become public, and we can’t ignore it just because of that.

    • daviddmsvcp - Apr 30, 2014 at 4:23 PM

      You are the scum bag.

  5. saint1997 - Apr 30, 2014 at 8:44 AM

    Well played by Adam Silver – even if he doesn’t succeed his intentions alone were enough of a statement to garner international praise and recognition, not to mention getting off on the right foot with players and fans.

  6. rayburns - Apr 30, 2014 at 10:26 AM

    Don’t think that this is over by any means. Players have already come out and said that it has to more than lip service that the NBA wants Sterling gone. They want action and they want it fast, as in before the conclusion of the next round of playoffs.

    If the owners drag their feet on this, look for the talk of boycotts to start up again as early as next week. The players don’t care about the legal mess. Their opinion is that its the owners that approved and enabled Sterling to be an owner for 30+ years in spite of what everyone now knows, so it’s the owners’ mess to clean up.

  7. ningenito78 - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:03 AM

    This was an easy one for Silver. No matter what happens he comes out of this smelling like a rose. He risked absolutely nothing making this statement. If the NBA wins, Sterling is gone and he’s a hero. If the NBA loses in court, hey Adam Silver did everything in his power to make it happen. Still a hero. This was a no-brainer move for Silver and I don’t blame him for making it. But making him a hero in this? He really only had one play and he ran with it.

  8. vegasdestroyer - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:15 AM

    Just remember NBA owners, illegal recordings of your behavior can be used against you too.

  9. mogogo1 - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:10 PM

    Rarely does a newcomer to the job get this kind of an opportunity to separate himself from his big-name predecessor. Silver comes out of this looking like a hero while Stern’s image takes a huge hit for never having done anything in the past to even attempt to reprimand Sterling for past behavior. Stern has probably already called Silver and suggested the Maloof brothers should be the new owners.

  10. granadafan - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:03 PM

    Sterling is the most litigious person this side of the late Al Davis. This is going to drag into the courts for years. Meantime, the Clippers are going to fade back into obscurity because no one is going to want to play for them anymore as long as he’s technically still the owner. As an LA resident and Laker fan, I feel bad for the Clipper fans who have had to endure such a crappy owner. My first apartment was under Sterling’s management company and what a dump it was. His management company didn’t care and were a reflection of Sterling.

  11. phillyguyindc - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:18 PM

    I still haven’t seen where in the constitution where it says they can kick him out for this. If someone else saw it please help me out. I think if it were that cut and dry there would certainly have been an article or two about it on here already.

    Florio? Any comment? I know you probably read this already becuase the draft is in a week.

  12. rcali - Apr 30, 2014 at 3:35 PM

    This is going to be entertaining! Um, you won’t have any problems with players taking Clipper money no matter who owns the team, if you think otherwise, time to wake up and smell the money.

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