NEW YORK — Adam Silver met the media before Tuesday night’s Draft Lottery, but the vast majority of the questions he received were only tangentially related to basketball.
Instead, the mess involving disgraced Clippers owner Donald Sterling, and where the league stands in its process to terminate his ownership stake is what dominated the conversation.
The NBA formally initiated its charge against Sterling on Monday, asserting that he has engaged in conduct that has damaged and continues to damage the NBA and its teams. Sterling has until May 27 to respond, and then a hearing will be convened on June 3. But given his refusal to pay the $2.5 million fine levied by the league along with a decision to retain legal counsel, a potentially lengthy battle in the courts awaits.
Silver, however, is confident that he made the right decision in acting so swiftly and forcefully, and believes that he’ll be able to execute his plan both successfully and in a timely fashion.
“My confidence level is high,” Silver said. “We know we’re doing the right thing, and I know I have the owners behind me. … We have a very active advisory finance committee, which is 10 NBA owners who have been meeting on a regular basis to discuss these proceedings, and the timing is laid out in the NBA constitution. We’re following it to the letter in terms of numbers of days that Mr. Sterling has to respond and then when the hearing will be held, and as I said, I know we’re doing the right thing here. This is an unprecedented proceeding.
“Will there be bumps in the road? Presumably yes. Mr. Sterling on one hand at least in his CNN interview indicated a willingness to accept the judgment of his owner partners. His lawyers are saying otherwise, so we’ll see. But this will all get worked out. I know we’re pursuing the right course here and doing the right thing.”
Silver was asked about Sterling’s wife Shelly’s interest in the team, even though the NBA had addressed that previously with an official release. Silver reiterated the league’s position, which essentially is that once one owner is ousted, so are any and all of his partners.
“As I understand the position of Mrs. Sterling’s lawyers, in essence they would say we accept you can terminate Mr. Sterling, but somehow Mrs. Sterling comes with the team,” Silver said. “I think even if that’s not what it said in our constitution, it just doesn’t make sense. The same way even if you had unrelated partners, if you terminated the franchise of the primary owner and that owner had several colleagues, cronies, who were also owners with him, it wouldn’t make sense that under our constitution we could then go about selling the team, but those other partners would have to come along.
“So our position is once under the constitution, based on Mr. Sterling’s conduct, if the owners ultimately decide that it’s appropriate to terminate his franchise, the interest of all owners is terminated.”
The fact that all of this is hanging over the league isn’t lost on Silver, especially on a night where the future fortunes of 14 franchises will begin to be shaped by the Lottery results, and in the midst of what has been an incredibly competitive postseason.
“There’s a certain sadness, and you feel it, it’s almost a malaise around the league,” Silver said. “That’s what I sensed when I first met with the Clippers. It was something deeper than anger.”
Silver clearly isn’t pleased by the fact that Sterling’s actions have overshadowed recent events. And he pointed to one of the NBA’s more positive moments in Kevin Durant’s MVP acceptance speech as the type of story that exemplifies what the league is truly all about.
“I remember at one point Kevin Durant says, really in addressing his mother who was sitting in the audience at the end of the speech, I’m paraphrasing, I think, but he said something like, Mom, we weren’t supposed to be here,” Silver said. “The deck was stacked against us. I get choked up a little bit just remembering watching him give that speech, and I think Kevin Durant as our most valuable player embodies what this league is all about, and frankly, Mr. Sterling doesn’t.”