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Has the NBA tipped its hand on the direction it wants to take with Donald Sterling? And is that direction far more extreme than anyone yet realizes?
It has been widely believed that the NBA's range of available penalties for Sterling would be limited to a hefty fine and/or a suspension. But Commissioner Adam Silver's ceiling may be much higher than outsiders yet realize.
The details of what the NBA can do in this situation are kept tightly under wraps, buried in the NBA's voluminous Constitution and By-laws and away from outsiders. Yet ESPN today, with direct quotes seemingly taken from those very documents, revealed among other things that the NBA may indeed be able to force Donald Sterling out of the league.
The significance of this information extends not only to the fact that it's possible, but also that the league has leaked that information at this juncture. A press conference is being held tomorrow, and based on all of this, DallasBasketball.com believes the league is going to announce (a) that they will do a complete investigation of the comments, and (b) they may decide to hold a hearing on whether Sterling will be allowed to continue as an owner.
His removal could not be mandated by Silver, but instead would require a "yes" vote from three-fourths of the league's owners. As outlined in the ESPN article:
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.
The inclusion of such a remedy was provided by the new NBA Constitition ratified in 2005, and its presence not only allows the NBA to get rid of Sterling if they feel they've had enough of his misdeeds, but it also gives them tremendous leverage here.
(From a league source, we've been told that this provision is so recent, and never used, that some NBA owners may not even be aware of the existence of this possibility. Indeed, there may be gray areas in all of this -- though ESPN is clearly reporting as if it is quoting directly from the bylaws.)
Should the NBA opt for this resolution, the key issues the owners will consider will be the legitimacy of the statements attributed to Sterling, the mitigating circumstances (if any), and whether there has been serious damage to the NBA brand in general caused by Sterling due to this latest incident. Also in play will be the issue of whether the other owners would have the stomach to force another owner out of the league, and whether this would rise to that level of misdeed.
It is worth noting that Sterling's "misdeeds'' are no secret and that we've written about them dozens of times in the past, including a year ago when we detailed Dallas' recruiting plan to lure Chris Paul away from the Clippers.
Also of note:
Dallas Mavericks players revealed at today's morning shootaround that they are considering making a symbolic anti-Sterling gesture as part of tonight's first-round Game 4 meeting with the Spurs at the AAC.
And Mavs owner Mark Cuban is on-record as saying, "Sometimes, people think they have to comment on everything in this day and age. And sometimes, when somebody says something, it's better just to let be what's said be the headline.''
Cuban has also said, via Twitter: "To be clear, I abhor all forms of racism or any discrimination. Ths issue shouldn't be about talking heads, it should be about substance only. ... We do it through empowering people. I try not to spend energy condemning. I focus on enabling opportunity.''
Where all of the anger from fans, media and players take this remains to be seen. But today's leaks, if accurate, give the first hint that the league might be heading toward a trial-like hearing or at least a "best-interest-of-the-sport'' move by Silver in which Sterling will be fighting for his franchise behind closed doors.