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How The NBA Might Ensure Sterling Sells The Clippers


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

A day after NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life and made clear his intention to force Sterling to sell the team, the question remains, just how will Silver do that?

According to NBA by-laws, it would take the approval of three-quarters of NBA owners to force a sale. At yesterday's news conference, Silver said he had spoken with several owners and had their full support.

For more on the possible scenarios ahead, we called on Michael McCann. He's the director of the Sports and Entertainment Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. And he says while the language in the NBA constitution is somewhat vague, it does include provisions on terminating ownership.

MICHAEL MCCANN: Well, Article 13 does provide a remedy for the NBA to oust an owner. It's specific in the sense that it itemizes different transgressions that an owner could commit to warrant such a penalty. Many of them have to do with financial impropriety, gambling. There's also language about interfering with the NBA's contracts and, certainly, that has occurred here with the Clippers losing some sponsorship contracts. That has an impact on the league. And so the league would likely argue that Sterling's impact on contracts is a leading reason why he should be ousted.

BLOCK: Apart from fighting the sale, could Donald Sterling sue the NBA and charge, you know, a violation of antitrust law or a breach of their own constitutional authority here?

MCCANN: He can. You can try different types of claims. One would be a breach of contract claim. He could also argue that there is an antitrust violation. Now the NBA is going to argue, well, Mr. Sterling, you agreed to play by these rules and you agreed that Adam Silver is the final word on the NBA's own system of laws. And also that Donald Sterling agreed to waive away any potential claims against the NBA. However, antitrust law is a tricky area of law. It can be a source of law that goes around internal law. It could give Donald Sterling some legs, although, I think overall the NBA would be poised to win any litigation.

BLOCK: Hypothetically, if the sale does go through, if Donald Sterling is forced to sell the Clippers, who controls that sale? Who decides who can buy the team?

MCCANN: That's a great question and it's not yet resolved. And Donald Sterling may object to any type of role in the sale of the team in order to preserve a legal claim. He could argue that I'm going to have nothing to do with this because if I start participating in the sale of the team, a judge could later on say that I consented to this arrangement. I have a feeling Donald Sterling will remove himself from any activities with the sale of his team. I think he'll seek a court injunction trying to block the sale of his team. And I think if that fails, he would then later on bring a lawsuit against the NBA and potentially whoever is the new owner saying that Donald Sterling is the real owner of this team. It could get very messy.

BLOCK: Obviously there are a lot of hypotheticals here. But would one scenario be that Donald Sterling could transfer the ownership of the L.A. Clippers to one of his kids or even to his estranged wife?

MCCANN: Unlikely to happen. And I say that because the NBA would have to approve any transfer of ownership. I would imagine the NBA would categorically reject that attempt as an end around of the league's punishment of Donald Sterling.

BLOCK: Well, overall, as you look at this from a legal perspective, does it strike you that the NBA is overreaching in trying to force the sale or are they on solid legal ground here?

MCCANN: Well, I think the NBA probably is on solid legal ground. But it isn't as if the NBA is beyond legal review. And this gives Donald Sterling, who is clearly unafraid to use the law, an opportunity to challenge the NBA. And the more disruptive he is to the NBA's decision to oust him, the more difficult it will be to remove him from the scene. So the NBA possibly overplayed its hand in terms of if its goal is to eliminate Donald Sterling from the NBA by forcing him to sell the team, it gives him an incentive to fight to stay.

BLOCK: Michael McCann, thanks for talking with us.

MCCANN: Thank you.

BLOCK: Michael McCann directs the Sports and Entertainment Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.