Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life from the National Basketball Association (NBA) and fined $2.5 million after a recording of him making racist and sexist statements surfaced. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that Sterling would not be allowed to have any further association with the Clippers or the NBA. Silver also stated that he would ask the NBA Board of Governors to force a sale of the Clippers.
Silver’s announcement was applauded by almost all, except of course Sterling, who has made it clear that he is not willing to sell the Clippers. Many sources have suggested that Sterling will sue the NBA in order to retain ownership of the team. The NBA made public its Constitution, and potential legal issues both parties will have to deal with are materializing.
The NBA’s constitution states a team owner can be removed if the owner “fail(s) or refuse(s) to fulfill its contractual obligations to the Association.” In that event, the other owners can vote to force a sale of the team, but they need 75 percent agreement. Some owners have already agreed to vote to force the sale. The full Board of Governors vote is expected in mid-May.
Sterling will probably fight the forced sale even if the 75 percent vote passes. His defense will likely be based on Article 13(a) in the league’s constitution, which states that owners can vote to force a sale only if the team’s owner “willfully” violated any provisions of the Constitution, By-Laws, resolutions, or agreements of the Association. Sterling will likely argue that his actions were not “willful” because the recording was obtained illegally and leaked without his consent. In California, it is “a crime to record or eavesdrop on any confidential communication, including a private conversation or telephone call, without the consent of all parties to the conversation.”
The NBA would then probably counter with an argument based on Article 14(j) of the NBA constitution, which states that Association decisions are final, binding, and conclusive. The NBA can also base its argument on the moral and ethical contracts Sterling signed when he purchased the Clippers, and various amended versions since then. One of these contracts states that an owner will not take any position or action that will “adversely affect” a team or the league.
If Sterling does end up suing the NBA, it will be up to the court to determine the meaning of “willful,” “adverse affect,” and “ethical and moral behavior.”