Jerry West's silhouette represents the National Basketball Association's pristine logo, but Donald Sterling's specter is a smudge on the egalitarianism of the league and everyone involved.
After huddling with his team for nearly 72 hours, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver dealt Clippers owner Donald Sterling a resounding lifetime ban and a $2.5 million fine that echoed through the halls of 29 NBA arenas. One lifetime ban may sound weak considering the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP would have given him two, one for each Lifetime Achievement Award, but it was the most allowed by the NBA's bylaws.
Now banned from the NBA's home court, the thought was that Sterling v. National Basketball Association would shift to Sterling's home floor–the courtroom.
However, according to legal experts, this is a slam dunk for the league.
The next step involves forcing Sterling by any (legal) means necessary to sell the franchise he's owned for over 33 years. The NBA would prefer for Sterling to cough up the goods without making a scene. Sterling is a litigious man with the resilience to spend years in court if necessary.
Speaking to Jim Gray before Silver announced his ban, Sterling was stubborn as always saying, “the team is not for sale. He will not be selling the team.”
However, Sterling’s attempts to litigate and stall will be dismissed almost immediately accorded to ESPN’s Lester Munson.
One staffer claimed Sterling would sue the league for devaluing his franchise. That's hogwash. Most likely, the franchise will be worth more without Sterling.
According to Munson’s legal analysis, unlike his battles against Mike Dunleavy, or poor tenants, Sterling is a virtual 8-seed trailing 3-0 against the defending champs.
“When Silver issues his punishment to Sterling, the decision is final. The constitution provides in Paragraph 24(m) that a commissioner’s decision shall be… as final as an award of arbitration. It is almost impossible to find a judge in the United States judicial system who would set aside an award of arbitration. Sterling can file a lawsuit but he would face a humiliating defeat early in the process.”
As a result, this is an arbitration issue, which the NBA board of Governors will have the power squarely in their hands. All the NBA needs is a ¾ vote of approval in favor of removing Sterling for the sale to begin and the Clippers are a hot commodity. Unfortunately, Sterling will profit from the franchise’s sale.
There were a smorgasbord of intriguing nuggets to take away from Silver’s press conference, however, there are still questions that must be answered.
Such as whether the other 32 owners will vote to force a sale of the Clippers. Mark Cuban, presumably one of the more progressive owners in the NBA called it a “slippery slope”, but believes Sterling didn’t belong.
Cuban is correct that the parameters of paragraph 13 of the constitution were originally intended to punish offenses related to gambling or fraud in the application for franchise ownership and not free speech, no matter how despicable.
Cuban has a salient point. However, Sterling has been racing downhill on the slalom for decades.
If Cuban votes in support of Sterling’s dismissal, he’ll still require the aid of 22 peers. Despite Cuban’s musings, the other 29 other owners should at least recognize the perception that keeping Sterling in the fold would reinforce. Being associated with Sterling is a strain on the league.
If Cuban thinks the NFL would implode in the future, Sterling’s presence would be a black cloud over the league that could significantly damage the NBA’s brand. That hurts attendance, jersey sales, sponsors, viewership and everything that encompasses revenue.
If the NBA does force a sale, the next step will involve the bidding process.
Magic Johnson and his billionaire backers, the Guggenheim Partners are the early frontrunners, but Diddy has also emerged as a potential party interested in becoming an NBA owner. Larry Ellison is worth 50 times the current Clippers owner and would spare no expense after whiffing on the Golden State Warriors purchase in 2010 and Patrick Soon-Shiong, a minority philanthropist that is a complete 180 from the unscrupulous Sterling.
There’s no timetable on the vote to remove Sterling, but rest assured the Sterling era is drawing down to a merciful close. Until recently, Sterling was accustomed to losing. He may no longer be welcome around the NBA, but they’ll kindly hand him one more L in the form of his franchise.