The NBA began the formal process of seizing the Los Angeles Clippers from Donald Sterling on Monday, notifying the league’s longest-tenured owner of the specific charges against him in a document that claims his racist comments damaged its relationship with players, sponsors and fans. In a release titled “Summary of Sterling Termination Charge” posted online on Monday night, the NBA also said Sterling lied to the league during its investigation into his comments and destroyed evidence it was seeking in the probe.
Sterling has a chance to respond and the right to a hearing before the other owners vote on June 3 on whether to strip him of his team – technically, terminating his membership in the NBA. He would still have the rights to the proceeds when the team is sold. Sterling’s lawyer declined comment Monday. A lawyer for his estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, said she will fight to retain her 50 percent ownership of the team. The summary issued by the league included two sections – one listing the charges against Sterling, and the other detailing the provisions of the NBA constitution he is accused of violating. “Termination of LAC’s entire membership – including Mrs. Sterling’s interest in the team – is called for by the Constitution and related agreements,” the summary concludes, “and is the only viable means for bringing Mr. Sterling’s interest in the Clippers to an end.”
Among the league’s claims:
-Sterling’s discriminatory actions and positions have harmed the NBA and its teams, other owners, players and Clippers employees, and damaged its relationships with its fans, business partners and community leaders.
-Sterling disparaged blacks and other minorities in a way that will “significantly undermine and call into question the NBA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
-Sterling destroyed evidence, lied to and misled the NBA investigator.
-Refused to pay the $2.5 million fine imposed on him by Commissioner Adam Silver on April 29.
To support its case, the league said Sterling’s actions violated his duty to the other owners in four distinct ways – three articles of the NBA constitution and a New York state law:
- Article 13(d) of the league constitution allows the league to seize a team if an owner “fails or refuses to fulfill its contractual obligations … in such a way as to affect the Association or its Members adversely.” Sterling, the league said, failed “to use best efforts to see to it that the sport of professional basketball is conducted according to the highest moral and ethical standards.”
-Under New York Law, all teams of the NBA “owe each other a duty of loyalty to support the League in the attainment of its proper purposes, … (including) the league’s commitment to diversity and inclusion,” the league said.
-Under Article 13(a) of the league constitution, ownership rights can be terminated if the owner “willfully” violates the constitution of the bylaws. The NBA claims Sterling did so by misleading investigators and the public while the league was looking into his comments.
-Under Article 13(c) of the league constitution, ownership can be terminated for a failure to pay dues or other debts to the league. Sterling’s attorney has said he will not pay the $2.5 million fine that went with his lifetime ban though, according to the NBA constitution, he has 30 days to produce the money.
Jimmy Golen covers sports and the law for The Associated Press.
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