In addition to his Tuesday announcement of a lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine for Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling following a league investigation in which the 80-year-old real estate developer admitted to making the racist comments that appeared on the audio recordings.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver also urged the rest of the NBA’s owners to begin working to force Sterling to sell the team he purchased for $12.5 million in 1981. Sterling told Fox News’ Jim Gray Tuesday afternoon that he does not intend to sell the team, prompting the question: How exactly would an involuntary ouster of Sterling work?
The process is laid out in the NBA’s constitution and bylaws, as detailed by ESPN.com’s Lester Munson:
Q: Is it possible for Silver and the NBA to terminate Sterling’s franchise ownership?
A: Yes. Under the terms of Paragraph 13 of the constitution, the owners can terminate another owner’s franchise with a vote of three-fourths of the NBA Board of Governors, which is composed of all 30 owners. The power to terminate is limited to things like gambling and fraud in the application for ownership, but it also includes a provision for termination when an owner “fails to fulfill” a “contractual obligation” in “such a way as to affect the [NBA] or its members adversely.” Silver and the owners could assert that Sterling’s statements violated the constitution’s requirements to conduct business on a “reasonable” and “ethical” level.
Any owner or Silver can initiate the termination procedure with a written charge describing the violation. Sterling would have five days to respond to the charge with a written answer. The commissioner would then schedule a special meeting of the NBA Board of Governors within 10 days. Both sides would have a chance to present their evidence, and then the board would vote. If three-fourths of the board members vote to terminate, then Sterling would face termination of his ownership. It would require a vote of two-thirds of the board to reduce the termination to a fine. Terminating a franchise would obviously be a drastic remedy, but the potential of the termination procedure gives Silver and the other owners vast leverage in any discussion with Sterling about an involuntary sale of his team.
So, to review: Silver would need 75 percent of the NBA’s owners — or 22 of the 29 non-Clippers owners, now that Sterling’s been removed from the mix and team president Andy Roeser has been put in charge in L.A. — to vote in favor of terminating Sterling’s ownership to turn the Clippers over to the league to control the sale of the franchise. During his press conference, Silver claimed he hadn’t taken a head count, but expressed confidence that he had the Board of Governors’ backing.
While Silver might not have conducted a head count, the heads of the NBA’s other 29 teams have all made their own voices heard, offering either statements of support for Silver’s decision or denouncing Sterling’s comments and continued membership in the league.
It’s worth noting that statements and actions don’t always dovetail — it’s possible that some owners throwing their support behind Silver on Tuesday might not vote to terminate Sterling’s franchise should it come to that — but as Woj noted, given the public backlash that would come with breaking rank with the commish here, any trips off the reservation seem extremely unlikely.
We could soon learn whether those statements of support will translate into votes to jettison Sterling. During a press conference following Silver’s announcement, Roger Mason Jr., the first vice president of the National Basketball Players Association, urged NBA owners to convene the special Board of Governors meeting to hold a vote on Sterling “immediately.”
The vote itself will not take place instantly, but Silver did tell reporters that “the process [for bringing a vote] will begin immediately,” citing discussions over the last several days with Wolves owner Taylor, chairman of the Board of Governors, on setting things in motion.
“That process includes NBA staff “compiling information [that] the league’s advisory committee and all 30 owners will need before a date is set and they take such a vote,” as Zgoda wrote. The Wolves owner also emphasized the importance of caution even as the drumbeat to excise Sterling grows louder and louder.
“I think we’re going into some uncharted areas and I think we want to make sure take each step with caution and make sure we’re doing the right thing, knowing there could be some legal challenges where we’re going,” Taylor said. “I think we have to be very careful. We’re in uncharted ground. We want to move in one sense with some speed but in another sense making sure that we come to a conclusion here.”
Whether that conclusion is soon in coming, or whether Sterling could tie his prospective franchise termination (if not his lifetime ban) up in litigation for a lengthy period of time, remains to be seen. With Silver suggesting Tuesday he’s got the stomach for the fight, and the other 29 owners indicating that they’re behind kicking Sterling out of their club, we could take the next step toward learning the answer very soon.