Donald Sterling could contest if NBA owners force sale


by Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY Sports and KING 5 News

Posted on April 30, 2014 at 2:08 PM

NEW YORK — Adam Silver used the biggest weapon the NBA commissioner has when he banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life and said he would move to force Sterling to sell his team.

Sterling can pay the $2.5 million fine Silver issued. The lifetime ban for Sterling? It may be inconsequential as long as the Clippers are making money and filling his bank account.

But in his unprecedented rebuke Tuesday of Sterling, Silver made clear that he — along with several players, coaches, owners, fans, public officials and activists — wants a new owner for the Clippers.

"I will urge the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team and will do everything in my power to ensure that that happens," Silver said, far more confident and resolute than he was Saturday when news broke of Sterling's racially insensitive comments.

Silver is relying on the NBA's Constitution and By-Laws, which say the interest of an owner "may be terminated by a vote of three-fourths of the Board of Governors."

Silver's predecessor, David Stern, never spoke on a voting issue unless he knew how it would go, and Silver is the same way. Silver said he didn't poll owners, but at least 20 made publc statements in support of the move. He said he spoke with several and said, "I have their full support."

Sports legal analyst Mike McCann says Sterling could fight being forced to sell based on anti-trust laws. Because it would be a forced sale and not an open bidding process, Sterling could argue he would have to sell his team at below-market value.

Sterling also has incentive to fight because he would have to pay a huge capital gains tax if he sells. If he makes $800 million on the sale, he would have to pay a 33% tax. If his family inherited the team after his death and then sold it, he wouldn't have capital gains tax, just estate taxes.

Sterling could also fight the ambiguous language in the bi-laws of the league's constitution, which don't specifically address making a racist comment in a private conversation.

But, the commissioner is charged with "protecting the integrity of the game of professional basketball and preserving public confidence in the League" and is given authority to penalize "in the best interest of the Association."

"Let's just leave it that we have the authority to act as I've recommended," Silver said.

There is no timeline to take a vote, and while Silver and the players' union said they want that vote to happen as soon as possible, procedures must be followed.

Silver has three days to provide Sterling a written copy of the charges, and Sterling has five days to answer. A special hearing of the Board of Governors then will be held on a date no more than 10 days after Sterling's reply.

If Sterling doesn't reply in five days or fails to appear at the hearing, the league's constitution deems that an admission of the charges. Sterling can be represented by counsel at the hearing, but it's not a court of law. "Strict rules of evidence shall not apply," it says in the NBA's constitution.

Silver was to the point.

"When the board ultimately considers his overall fitness to be an owner in the NBA, they will take into account a lifetime of behavior," he said.

After hearing the evidence, the board will vote, and based on Silver's comments and statements from league owners, the owners plan to remove Sterling. If that happens, the league will assume control of the team and look for a buyer.

Asked if he expects Sterling to fight, Silver said, "I have no idea."

Sterling, a lawyer and real estate tycoon, is not afraid of the court room. Though he's no longer allowed in NBA facilities and cannot make decisions for the team for the rest of his life, he could launch a legal battle. Remember, this is the owner who moved the Clippers from San Diego to Los Angeles without the league's consent.

But Silver also made it clear he is ready to fight for players and the league — however long that takes to sell the Clippers.

KING 5's Mimi Jung contributed to this report