In addition to his Tuesday announcement of a lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine for Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling following a league investigation in which the 80-year-old real estate developer admitted to making the racist comments that appeared on the audio recordings published this past weekend, NBA commissioner Adam Silver also urged the rest of the NBA's owners to begin working to force Sterling to sell the team he purchased for $12.5 million in 1981. Sterling told Fox News' Jim Gray Tuesday afternoon that he does not intend to sell the team, prompting the question: How exactly would an involuntary ouster of Sterling work?
The process is laid out in the NBA's constitution and bylaws, as detailed by ESPN.com's Lester Munson:
Q: Is it possible for Silver and the NBA to terminate Sterling's franchise ownership?
A: Yes. Under the terms of Paragraph 13 of the constitution, the owners can terminate another owner's franchise with a vote of three-fourths of the NBA Board of Governors, which is composed of all 30 owners. The power to terminate is limited to things like gambling and fraud in the application for ownership, but it also includes a provision for termination when an owner "fails to fulfill" a "contractual obligation" in "such a way as to affect the [NBA] or its members adversely." Silver and the owners could assert that Sterling's statements violated the constitution's requirements to conduct business on a "reasonable" and "ethical" level.
Any owner or Silver can initiate the termination procedure with a written charge describing the violation. Sterling would have five days to respond to the charge with a written answer. The commissioner would then schedule a special meeting of the NBA Board of Governors within 10 days. Both sides would have a chance to present their evidence, and then the board would vote. If three-fourths of the board members vote to terminate, then Sterling would face termination of his ownership. It would require a vote of two-thirds of the board to reduce the termination to a fine. Terminating a franchise would obviously be a drastic remedy, but the potential of the termination procedure gives Silver and the other owners vast leverage in any discussion with Sterling about an involuntary sale of his team.
So, to review: Silver would need 75 percent of the NBA's owners — or 22 of the 29 non-Clippers owners, now that Sterling's been removed from the mix and team president Andy Roeser has been put in charge in L.A. — to vote in favor of terminating Sterling's ownership to turn the Clippers over to the league to control the sale of the franchise. During his press conference, Silver claimed he hadn't taken a head count, but expressed confidence that he had the Board of Governors' backing.
"I didn't poll the owners," Silver said. "I spoke to several owners, and I have their full support."
Later, he added: "I fully expect to get the support I need from the other NBA owners to remove him."
Just how much support? From Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski:
"Adam has the votes — all of them, I believe," a league source told Yahoo Sports.
While Silver might not have conducted a head count, the heads of the NBA's other 29 teams have all made their own voices heard, offering either statements of support for Silver's decision or denouncing Sterling's comments and continued membership in the league. It's worth noting that statements and actions don't always dovetail — it's possible that some owners throwing their support behind Silver on Tuesday might not vote to terminate Sterling's franchise should it come to that — but as Woj noted, given the public backlash that would come with breaking rank with the commish here, any trips off the reservation seem extremely unlikely.
Here are the statements of support for Silver and/or opposition to Sterling from the ownership of all 29 other NBA franchises:
Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson:
Boston Celtics managing partners Wyc Grousbeck, H. Irving Grousbeck, Stephen Pagliuca and Robert Epstein:
“The entire Boston Celtics organization and our ownership group fully support the decisive action taken by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver today. The Celtics stand for inclusion and equality, and we are proud to be a part of a league that shares the same values.”
The Brooklyn Nets:
Today’s announcement by Commissioner Silver sends a strong message that racism and discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated in the NBA family. The Nets organization welcomes and fully supports the decision and remains committed to tolerance and respect for all. We can all be proud that the reaction throughout the NBA – from players, management, ownership and fans – has been unequivocal and united in condemning the scourge of racism.
Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, via Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer:
“I applaud NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s swift and decisive response today. He sent a powerful message that there can be zero tolerance for racism and hatred in the NBA. I’m confident that the league, our players and our fans will move on from this stronger and more unified.”
Chicago Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and president/chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf:
We completely support Commissioner Silver’s decision today regarding Clippers owner Donald Sterling, and praise him for his prompt investigation and action. The Commissioner was correct to ban Mr. Sterling from all official NBA business, to levy the stiffest allowable fine, and we will support his recommendation to press for Mr. Sterling to relinquish his ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers franchise. We believe Commissioner Silver’s decision reflects the best interests of the NBA and public civility.
Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert:
"It is shocking that anyone could hold the kind of offensive and feeble minded views that are being attributed allegedly to the Clippers owner, Donald Sterling. The diverse staff members of the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise are unified in encouraging Commissioner Silver and the NBA to respond with swift and appropriate action consistent with a strong zero tolerance approach to this type of reprehensible behavior."
Denver Nuggets president and governor Josh Kroenke:
"Kroenke Sports & Entertainment and the Denver Nuggets wholeheartedly and emphatically support Commissioner Adam Silver's decision that Donald Sterling be fined and banned for life from any involvement with the National Basketball Association.
"Mr. Sterling’s words have absolutely no place in our working family or in a global sport that values inclusion, diversity and tolerance of people regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation."
Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores:
“We applaud the firm punishment handed out today by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and appreciate the swiftness with which the NBA conducted its investigation,” co-owner Joe Lacob said in a statement.
“Similarly, we anticipate that the NBA Board of Governors will act promptly to put this chapter behind us. As I noted on Sunday, the sentiments expressed on the audio recording were completely inappropriate, unacceptable and senseless. We cannot tolerate such feelings or beliefs, not only in the NBA, but in society in general. There is absolutely no room for racism in our world, period.”
“This kind of behavior can’t be allowed in the NBA by owners, players or anybody,” Alexander said. “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.”
Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon:
“I wholeheartedly endorse Commissioner Adam Silver’s swift, strong and decisive action with regard to Donald Sterling. These past days have been both sad and disturbing for the NBA family. It is our responsibility to continue as models of the diversity and inclusion the NBA has long and justly represented.”
Los Angeles Lakers president Jeanie Buss:
"In my statement yesterday, I said I had full confidence in Adam Silver and how he and the NBA would handle this situation. In today’s announcement Adam was decisive, firm and compelling and showed great leadership in his condemnation of the horrible and offensive comments that have led to this action.”
Memphis Grizzlies owner Robert Pera:
Miami Heat owner Micky Arison:
Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl:
“We denounce the offensive, racist comments made by Mr. Sterling, and we stand with the actions Commissioner Silver has taken against him.”
Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor:
“The Timberwolves stand firmly in full support of the swift and impactful action taken today by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. His leadership and direction in this matter is completely appropriate and appreciated by the Timberwolves organization. We stand unified with Commissioner Silver today and reaffirm our organization’s zero tolerance approach to the type of reprehensible behavior which caused this action.”
New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Benson:
New York Knicks owner James L. Dolan:
“The Oklahoma City Thunder strongly supports the decisive action taken today by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Ours is a league of inclusion, tolerance and fairness. The Thunder organization will continue to work to foster the tenets of diversity and respect, and build on that standard moving forward.”
The Orlando Magic:
The Orlando Magic feel the recent reprehensible comments by Donald Sterling were absolutely unacceptable and do not reflect the values and beliefs of our organization or our league.
We applaud the leadership of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, as well as Head Coach Doc Rivers and his players, who are at the epicenter of the situation.
Philadelphia 76ers managing owner Josh Harris:
“The Philadelphia 76ers completely support NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. As I have previously stated, there is no place for any type of discrimination in our society, and those hurtful and ignorant comments are contrary to the core values and beliefs of our ownership group and organization.”
Phoenix Suns managing partner Robert Sarver:
Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen:
Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé:
San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt:
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, owners of the Toronto Raptors:
“As a proud member of the National Basketball Association, we stand strongly in our belief that the comments attributed to Mr. Sterling have no place in our society or sport. Our organization will always work to contribute to a culture of diversity and acceptance in this league and fully support the actions taken today. We thank Commissioner Adam Silver, and all of the NBA players, for their leadership on this important issue.”
Utah Jazz owner Greg Miller:
Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis (prior to Silver's Tuesday announcement):
As I have stated, there should be zero tolerance for hatemongering.
Hate speech demonstrates an ignorance that is unacceptable, and I implore all of us to help eliminate any form of discrimination.
I have full confidence that Commissioner Silver will conduct a thorough investigation and act accordingly upon his findings.
We could soon learn whether those statements of support will translate into votes to jettison Sterling. During a press conference following Silver's announcement, Roger Mason Jr., the first vice president of the National Basketball Players Association, urged NBA owners to convene the special Board of Governors meeting to hold a vote on Sterling "immediately."
The vote itself will not take place instantly, but Silver did tell reporters that "the process [for bringing a vote] will begin immediately," citing discussions over the last several days with Wolves owner Taylor, chairman of the Board of Governors, on setting things in motion.
“The process in one sense begins today,” Taylor told Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Tuesday afternoon. “It has already begun.”
That process includes NBA staff "compiling information [that] the league’s advisory committee and all 30 owners will need before a date is set and they take such a vote," as Zgoda wrote. The Wolves owner also emphasized the importance of caution even as the drumbeat to excise Sterling grows louder and louder.
"I think we’re going into some uncharted areas and I think we want to make sure take each step with caution and make sure we’re doing the right thing, knowing there could be some legal challenges where we’re going," Taylor said. "I think we have to be very careful. We’re in uncharted ground. We want to move in one sense with some speed but in another sense making sure that we come to a conclusion here.”
Whether that conclusion is soon in coming, or whether Sterling could tie his prospective franchise termination (if not his lifetime ban) up in litigation for a length period of time, remains to be seen. With Silver suggesting Tuesday he's got the stomach for the fight, and the other 29 owners indicating that they're behind kicking Sterling out of their club, we could take the next step toward learning the answer very soon.
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