Hey LakHer Fans, this is a quick follow up for those of you who read my post yesterday on the NBA’s potential recourse against Donald Sterling. Update: Adam Silver (the NBA Commissioner) appears to have gone above and beyond my prediction by fining Sterling $2.5 million, banning him for life, and in the Commissioners own words “urge[ing] the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team.”
First, I should point out that a lifetime ban appears to be different from an indefinite suspensions – the phrase “indefinite” implies that the suspension might be revoked at some point, while “ban” seems to suggest that there is no chance Sterling will be allowed to return to normal relations with the NBA ever again. This is a VERY serious sanction, and one that has not ever been employed by the NBA as far as I am aware.
Second, I want to emphasize that the devil is still in the details regarding the ban and the “urging” of a forced sale. Clearly, Adam Silver wanted to come out taking a strong stand on this issue, and I don’t think anyone at this point will accuse him of not acting to the extent of his authority. In fact, the general tenor is that he is imposing the absolute maximum penalty against Sterling – the fine is large, the suspension is actually a ban, and the forced sale is something he claims he will actively encourage. However, as I discussed yesterday, what a suspension (or a ban) actually means for an owner is not clear, and the NBA still needs to hash out those details – Silver said Sterling is banned from attending NBA games, practices, and Board of Governors meetings, but it is still unclear what impact, if any, the ban will have on Sterling’s ability to manage the Clippers as a team, or if the NBA intends to take over management duties.
Silver’s intent to “urge” the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force Sterling to sell the team is equally slippery. For one, per my post yesterday, we are not 100% sure exactly what authority the Board of Governors has to force a sale – the NBA constitution is not a public document, and the main authority it seems to establish only applies in cases of owner bankruptcy / inability to pay the teams bills. I am reading now that there is also a provision in the constitution that would “allow for termination of franchise ownership when an owner ‘fails to fulfill’ a ‘contractual obligation’ in ‘such a way as to affect the [NBA] or its members adversely.’” That kind of language is a lawyers DREAM – basically every word in that entire clause is devoid of singular meaning and open to litigation. Silver might “urge” all he wants, but a reasonable board of governors will have a hard time pulling the trigger with that sort of litigation potential hanging over their heads.
I’m not making these points to suggest that Silver is being underhanded or is not taking a strong stance on this issue – in fact I am honestly surprised at how serious these sanctions are. I’m simply pointing out that we are going to need to wait a little longer to find out EXACTLY what these sanctions mean. Furthermore, I still think the most likely outcome will be all the other NBA owners working behind-the-scenes to convince Sterling that a sale is in his best interest, while courting a third party to come in and purchase the team for a price that reflects the teams pre-scandal value.
*Adam Waks is a student at the New York University School of Law – he is not actually an expert in any legal field, nor is he licensed to practice law in any state as of April 29th, 2014. He is however a lifetime Laker fan, and the kind of brother willing to spend 4 hours reading sports blogs instead of studying for his law school finals.