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Report: Clippers owner Donald Sterling signed moral and ethical contracts with the NBA over the years

May 7, 2014, 8:01 PM EDT

File of Clippers owner Sterling sitting as he watches team play Knicks in NBA game in Los Angeles File of Clippers owner Sterling sitting as he watches team play Knicks in NBA game in Los Angeles

Clippers owner Donald Sterling is reportedly on the hunt for a law firm that will take on the task of suing the NBA, in hopes of preventing the league from forcing Sterling to sell the team following his lifetime ban that was issued by commissioner Adam Silver.

Silver acted about as swiftly and strongly as possible in taking action, and given the fact that the Sterling situation was becoming a national news story threatening to be all-encompassing for the league just as the postseason was underway, he didn’t seem to have much of a choice.

But Silver is extremely intelligent about both matters of business and the law, and wouldn’t have dropped the hammer this hard unless he felt confident that there was plenty of legal ground to stand on. And it appears that in addition to the league’s constitution, he may have some additional, very important documents on his side.

From Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

The NBA not only is relying on its constitution and by-laws to force Los Angeles Clipper owner Donald Sterling to sell the team, but also plans to rely on moral and ethical contracts with the league Sterling has signed over the years, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports. …

Language in those contracts prevent Sterling from expressing views or taking actions counter that are detrimental to the league, the person said.

Depending just how strongly worded and specific those contracts are, they could have provided Silver with added security before he made his ruling, and they could also be huge assets for the league if indeed Sterling decides to fight.

In related news, the league’s Advisory/Finance Committee met via conference call on Wednesday to discuss the next steps in the process.

“The Advisory/Finance Committee met again today via conference call,” said Mike Bass, the NBA’s Executive Vice President of Communications, via official release. “The Committee reviewed the status of the search for a new CEO of the Los Angeles Clippers, was updated on meetings held this week between NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum and Clippers employees, and addressed the process and timing regarding the termination of Mr. Sterling’s ownership of the team.  The Committee will reconvene next week.”

  1. antistratfordian - May 7, 2014 at 8:05 PM

    The writing is on the wall (and contract), Donny. Time to let it go and walk away.

    • shanelsweet - May 7, 2014 at 8:10 PM

      Bingo! If it winds up in court, it’ll just be about money. Now is not the time for the other owners to be frugal. Pay him 2X what he wants, but just get it done. It’s not like the team is in a small, struggling market. It’s value will eventually catch up. In the meantime, sell the team to Magic and Oprah.

      • packergator - May 8, 2014 at 9:21 AM

        I don’t see the NBA backing down here; they’ve got more than enough resources to take Sterling down, and they have to make an example of someone like that.

    • bucrightoff - May 7, 2014 at 8:29 PM

      Clearly some people still have no idea who this guy really is. His odds could be .000001% and he will still be suing.

      • antistratfordian - May 7, 2014 at 8:45 PM

        Everyone is aware of that, but it doesn’t mean he should. And it doesn’t mean that anyone should stop criticizing him as long as he keeps it up.

      • AZ Dem - May 7, 2014 at 8:55 PM

        He’s got to find a law firm willing to take the case. This is not a criminal matter, so he’s guaranteed legal representation.

      • kinggw - May 7, 2014 at 8:58 PM

        That doesn’t change the fact he doesn’t have much of a case and his fight won’t last long.

  2. RavenzGunnerz - May 7, 2014 at 8:07 PM

    30 yrs, you made 700+mil, you are banned for life, you won’t be allowed back into the league. Just take the money and walk. that is the only positive to be gained here…

    • ranfan12 - May 7, 2014 at 9:04 PM

      rich people stereotypically don’t like to part from their money makers

  3. eugenesaxe1 - May 7, 2014 at 8:52 PM

    Sterling doesn’t care, he has his family’s inheritance to blow on legal fees.

  4. mblue24 - May 7, 2014 at 8:56 PM

    Sterling. Fight fight to the end. Don’t let nobody push you and your team you built by saying something in the privacy of your own home plus being illegally recorded. This is all BS. No way in hell would I ever just stand down to the NBA for something like that. That’s the problem now days. Nobody can say anything but if it was the other way around like it happens everyday you would never hear about it. Just bc he’s a billionaire means people have throw the stupid racist card. This is really getting old. People think about what you have said in the privacy of your own home before. Would you want this to happen to you! I’m sure you woudnt. Freedom of speech. Fight. Fight fight.

    • kinggw - May 7, 2014 at 9:04 PM

      It’d be nice if the people who keep bringing up the freedom of speech argument recognized that no one is trying to restrict Sterling’s speech. Secondly, freedom of speech doesn’t mean you are absolved from the consequences of your speech. Lastly, nobody is playing the racist card (the term is race card) because he’s a billionaire, they are correctly identifying him as a racist because he has a long and storied history of being one.

    • ranfan12 - May 7, 2014 at 9:05 PM

      allegedly illegally recorded. he isn’t denying her claims that she records his conversations. don’t be naive

    • anotheryx - May 7, 2014 at 11:19 PM

      Freedom of speech ONLY applies to government censorship. He is not being prosecuted by federal or local government, so it has nothing to do with it.

    • packergator - May 8, 2014 at 9:29 AM

      Being illegally recorded would be an issue for a criminal court, but in a civil court, what would be his legal argument? Slander? In that case, truth is an absolute defense; the voice on the tape has been confirmed as Sterling’s, and he’s already admitted that he said those things. As for being pushed out as owner because of his on-tape statements, that the recording was done secretly doesn’t matter; the NBA has a business interest in pushing him out because his views and conduct have been detrimental to both the league (with sponsors leaving) and the other owners.

  5. AZ Dem - May 7, 2014 at 9:09 PM

    There are legal precedents for taking a team from ownership. The most noteworthy one of the modern era was when Marge Schott was stripped of her majority stake in the Cincinnati Reds. She was allowed to maintain a minority share of the team, but she was banned from any direct participation with the team’s activities.

  6. AZ Dem - May 7, 2014 at 9:36 PM

    The only thing he’ll be able to argue in court is the value of the franchise, if he doesn’t feel that he’s getting fair market value.

    When the owners vote on this issue, one of the issues is going to be the Clippers ability to stay in business and the adverse effect it would have on the league and the value of all the other franchises. The value of the NBA is wrapped up in its ability to sell advertising and maintain lucrative TV contracts. If the networks that show NBA games start losing advertising clients, they’re going to want to re-negotiate their contracts with the NBA.

    Sterling also has a huge problem with his wife. If she files for divorce, she’s going to want to take it all. Also, she owns a large stake in the Clippers. Divorce is the leading reason why franchises get sold. The wives want the money.

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