Why It's Taking the NBA So Long to Get Rid of Donald Sterling

PHOTO: Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling sits with a companion as he watches the team play New York Knicks in Los Angeles, Feb. 11, 2009.
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It's been more than two weeks since NBA players called for "immediate action" by team owners to force the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers from Donald Sterling's ownership, but that action is coming along slowly.

Sterling was banned for life by the NBA for making racist comments to his girlfriend on a recording that was leaked April 26. But he and his wife retain 50/50 ownership of the team and do not want to sell it, they have said.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said last month he would encourage the owners to vote to force a sale of the team - an unprecedented move in professional sports, according to Paul Haagen, director of Duke Law School's Center for Sports Law and Policy.

    Timeline of Events
  • April 26 TMZ posts audio of man they claim is Donald Sterling making racist comments against Magic Johnson and others in a recorded conversation with his girlfriend, V. Stiviano. The NBA says the same day they will investigate.
  • April 29 NBA Commissioner Adam Silver bans Sterling for life, saying the league verified that the voice belonged to Sterling. Silver says he will encourage NBA owners to force the sale of the Clippers. The NBA Players Association calls for this to be done quickly.
  • April 30 Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive predicts the owners vote will be "unanimous."
  • May 2 The NBA's advisory and finance committee, made up of 10 owners, decides unanimously to move forward with holding a vote over Sterling's ownership.
  • May 9 The NBA appoints an interim CEO, Dick Parsons, to run the Clippers.
  • May 13 NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says, "The NBA Board of Governors is continuing with its process to remove Mr. Sterling as expeditiously as possible."

"It’s a fairly complicated and consequential act to seize a team and force the involuntary sale of it," Haagen said.

Forcing the sale of a professional sports team had never done before except in bankruptcy cases, he said. Complicating matters further, the team is estimated to be worth between $500 million and $1 billion, he said.

The league commissioner has to prepare a written charge against Sterling explaining what rules of the NBA constitution that Sterling allegedly broke. Haagen said the league will likely cite Article 13A, which is that Sterling violated a resolution of a bylaw such as making statements undermining faith in the league.

But Sterling will be owed a hearing, with representation by lawyers, in which he can argue the charges.

Following the hearing, the owners will take a vote and a three-fourths majority will be needed to seize ownership.

"All of those reasons, plus the fact there's a lot of money at stake, and that’s why it may take a little while," he said.

Additionally, Sterling's wife, Rochelle "Shelly" Sterling, has said she will fight to retain ownership of the team. ESPN reports that the NBA believes it has the legal grounds to force both Sterlings to sell.

The league may act with expediency due to the attention on the issue, Haagen said.

"I think the speed might have something to do with public pressure on the league. Silver was quite masterful...He acted within a week. That’s lightning speed...I think the public is giving this a little time. If people were wildly angry and assuming a cover-up or delay that might speed things," he said.

Haagen said he doesn't see the issue being decided in the court system because the league is operating as a private association acting in its own best interest. He said he thinks the courts will not have grounds to take up the case.

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