NBA presents formal charges, takes first step to remove Donald Sterling as Clippers owner

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As Commissioner Adam Silver promised, the NBA is moving swiftly to remove Donald Sterling (and his wife) as owners of the Los Angeles Clippers.

The league took the first formal steps under its constitution Monday and initiated a charge against Sterling, the league announced on Monday. Sterling has until May 27 to respond.

This is all leading up to a formal hearing before the Board of Governors (the other owners) on June 3 (two days before the start of the NBA Finals). After that the board will vote and if 3/4 of them so vote Sterling would be removed as owner and the team sold by the league (already all 29 other owners have issued statements in support of Silver and his actions). Of course, the Sterlings are both expected to try and fight this in the courts (he has already refused to play the NBA’s $2.5 million fine).

Here is what the league said about the charges:

The charge asserts that Mr. Sterling engaged in conduct that has damaged and continues to damage the NBA and its teams. Among other things, Mr. Sterling disparaged African-Americans and “minorities”; directed a female acquaintance not to associate publicly with African-Americans or to bring African-Americans to Clippers games; and criticized African-Americans for not supporting their communities.

Mr. Sterling’s actions and positions significantly undermine the NBA’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion; damage the NBA’s relationship with its fans; harm NBA owners, players and Clippers team personnel; and impair the NBA’s relationship with marketing and merchandising partners, as well as with government and community leaders. Mr. Sterling engaged in other misconduct as well, including issuing a false and misleading press statement about this matter.

Sterling may be able to drag out the process in the courts but he is not expected to have much legal ground to stop the NBA.

Sterling signed documents and agreed to abide by the NBA’s constitution in running his franchise. He agreed to abide by the league’s rulings. This is not a case where the NBA has stepped in taking away a business he started and built (like his Real Estate empire), this is a franchise. It is more akin to Subway restaurants or McDonald’s or Chevron being allowed to pull its franchise from a franchisee who violated company policy (although there are certainly differences with that analogy).

Sterling can try to argue the NBA isn’t abiding by its own constitution, or that he is being discriminated against, but those are nearly impossible cases for him to make. The writing is on the wall for him and his wife (under NBA rules if his ownership is terminated all other ownerships are terminated as well).

Frankly, I think everyone around the NBA just wants all things Sterling to go away as quickly as possible. But it’s never quite that clean and easy.