NBA unites behind ousting Donald Sterling, but removing him will not be that simple

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The NBA is finally united. Nothing can get 29 owners, 450 players and legions of fans to agree on something…

Nothing except Donald Sterling.

New commissioner Adam Silver started to define his legacy when he brought the hammer down on the Clippers owner for his racist comments caught on tape — a lifetime ban, a $2.5 million fine, and plans by the league to force a sale of the franchise.

That last one is the big, bold move — forcing him to sell the team. Sterling loves owning a team, it is part of his identity, he will not willingly sell. However, under terms of the NBA’s constitution the league can force a sale if three quarters of the other NBA owners vote to do so — 23 of the other 29.

That’s not going to be a problem — within two hours of Silver’s press conference all 29 owners had come out in support of his actions. (You know a smart lawyer like Silver would never have said he was going this route without knowing he had the votes.)

“This kind of behavior can’t be allowed in the NBA by owners, players or anybody,” Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said to the Houston Chronicle. “This guy has no place in the family of the NBA. Whatever it takes, we have to make sure this kind of event never happens again.”

“In light of the serious matter facing our league, a matter that transcends sports, the New Orleans Pelicans fully support the decisions made today by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and will fully support his recommendations moving forward,” Pelicans owner Tom Benson said in a statement.

And so it went through every owner not named Sterling — even the Clippers released a statement saying they supported the decision.

If there is this kind of unified support when would a vote to oust Sterling happen? One owner told David Aldridge of NBA.com the latest is likely the annual owner’s meeting in July. Maybe earlier.

But it’s just not going to be that easy.

Donald Sterling told Jim Gray of Fox News earlier tonight the Clippers are “not for sale.” Sterling is an incredibly litigious person and most people around the league expect Sterling to fight this forced sale. He will do it in federal courts claiming the league is not following its own rules — the league has clear lines for selling a team where the owner was gambling on basketball or not paying his bills, neither of which are in question here. There is no “morals” clause but there is room to say Sterling was bad for business (the players were ready to boycott games and sponsors did pull out). However, lawyers say the wording in Sec. 13 of the constitution is vague, enough that Sterling can fight it. He will get injunctions, and he will drag it out and drag his feet. He will do everything he can to fight this, even if his options are limited. Ken Berger of CBSSports.com added that the fact Sterling’s wife of 50 years Shelly owns half the team complicates matters (it doesn’t matter that they are estranged as a couple, under California law half of what is his is hers, including the team).

With the courts involved, even if Adam Silver has the solid legal footing he says he does, it could take a year or more to get the sale okayed.

Silver took the bold steps and was able to unify the basketball world behind him in a way his predecessor David Stern never could. Now if he could maintain that unity and build on it that could lead to something special.

But getting rid of Sterling, that will be ugly and take a little time. Even with that unity.