Sterling, 80, has owned the Clippers for 33 years, making him the NBA's longest-tenured owner. On Monday the league filed an official termination charge against Sterling, setting in motion an official vote amongst the league's owners. The NBA is, for the moment, content to continue that course.
“We continue to follow the process set forth in the NBA Constitution regarding termination of the current ownership interests in the Los Angeles Clippers and are proceeding toward a hearing on this matter on June 3," said NBA spokesman Mike Bass.
June 3 is the date of the NBA's Board of Governors meeting, at which a vote to terminate Sterling's ownership will take place. It is widely assumed that NBA commissioner Adam Silver will have the necessary support to secure the super-majority vote to terminate Sterling's ownership. Silver has already imposed a lifetime ban and a $2.5 million fine on Sterling for his comments and all 30 teams, including the Clippers, expressed support for Silver following that punishment.
The potential sale of the Clippers prior to that point, though, could offer alternate means of resolution. The biggest remaining question on that front seems to concern Shelly Sterling, who previously had pledged to fight to keep her stake in the team. Based on both the language of the NBA's memo and the consensus in reporting on the subject, we can conclude that the NBA will not likely sign off on any arrangement that allows Shelly Sterling to remain an owner. That she has been empowered by Sterling to carry out the negotiation of the sale of the team is thus an especially pertinent development in the execution of a potential deal.
Following the charge for Sterling's termination earlier this week, attorney Pierce O'Donnell issued a statement on behalf of Shelly Sterling.
"We have just received the voluminous charges and are beginning the process of carefully reviewing them," O'Donnell said. "Based on our initial assessment, we continue to believe there is no lawful basis for stripping Shelly Sterling of her 50 percent ownership interest in the Clippers. She is the innocent estranged spouse. We also continue to hope that we can resolve this dispute with the NBA for the good of all constituencies.”
If Shelly Sterling and her representatives maintain that position as this process moves forward, the ordeal of procuring new ownership for the Clippers could be dragged out yet. If instead she has decided to relinquish her stake in the team as part of a sale, the NBA will undoubtedly move toward a swift resolution. Regardless, SI.com's Michael McCann noted earlier this month that controlling ownership of the team cannot be transferred to Shelly Sterling without approval:
If Shelly Sterling wants to become controlling owner of the Clippers, the league would have to approve such a step. The NBA would not approve Shelly Sterling as controlling owner, sources close to the situation tell SI.com. The league would have compelling grounds to deny her attempt, as it would seem to constitute an "end-around" of the NBA ousting her husband. Shelly Sterling has also been implicated in some of the allegations of racism against her husband, particularly those concerning their ownership and management of housing properties in Los Angeles. Consequently, the NBA could refer to those transgressions as legal justifications to deny a transfer of her ownership from non-controlling to controlling.
When sold, the Clippers are expected to fetch upwards of $1 billion. Any new owner would not only need to meet the NBA's standards, but also be approved by a 3/4 majority vote among the league's existing owners.
The official termination charge against Sterling was made on the grounds that he had "damaged and continue[s] to damage the NBA and its teams." Specifically, the NBA has taken issue with Sterling for the following reasons:
- Disparaging African-Americans and minorities.
- Directing a female acquaintance not to associate publicly with African-Americans or to bring African-Americans to Clippers games.
- Criticizing African-Americans for not supporting their communities.
The first two items relate to comments made by Sterling to his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, in a private tape that was released by TMZ. The third item relates to comments made during an interview with CNN this month.
The NBA also listed the following impacts of Sterling's comments and behavior:
- Significantly undermining the NBA’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion.
- Damaging the NBA’s relationship with its fans.
- Harming NBA owners, players and Clippers team personnel.
- Impairing the NBA’s relationship with marketing and merchandising partners, as well as with government and community leaders.
Finally, the NBA accused Sterling of engaging in "other misconduct," including releasing a "false and misleading press statement." Upon the release of the TMZ tape, Sterling issued a statement in which he questioned the legitimacy of the audio and refused to confirm that the voice on the tape was his.
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