Sterling on the way out?
The National Basketball Association yesterday launched its bid to oust Donald Sterling as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers for racist comments, as a panel of 10 fellow team owners or their proxies unanimously agreed to proceed "as expeditiously as possible," the NBA said.
The decision, reached during a telephone conference call of the NBA Board of Governors' advisory-finance committee, seemed to indicate a strong base of support among Sterling's fellow owners for his removal, as urged by league commissioner Adam Silver.
Silver on Tuesday banned Sterling from the NBA for life, fined him US$2.5 million ($3.1m) - the league maximum - and called on the 29 other club owners who make up the governing board to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.
The unprecedented move would require a three-quarter majority vote under the league's constitution and bylaws. If approved, the board could then go further still and vote to seize ownership of the team for the NBA itself to sell, cutting Sterling out of the negotiations.
The decision came hours before sports network ESPN and other media reported Sterling has been battling prostate cancer.
The lawyer for V Stiviano, the woman responsible for bringing Sterling's words to light, yesterday said that the audio recording of his comments was made with his consent.
MUSTER THE VOTES
Silver and at least two of the owners, including the interim chairman of the board, Glen Taylor of the Minnesota Timberwolves, have expressed confidence they could muster the votes necessary to force a sale.
The teams represented in yesterday's initial strategy session were Minnesota Timberwolves, Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns, Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors.
In a brief statement, the NBA said the panel discussed terminating Sterling's ownership and "unanimously agreed to move forward as expeditiously as possible". It said the panel would reconvene next week.
The committee's decision was in line with an outpouring of support expressed by the owners as a whole for Silver following Tuesday's announcement of a ban.
But a number of legal scholars and sports business analysts have said they expect Sterling and the NBA fight it out in court.
"The guy has a reputation for being highly litigious. I just can't possibly imagine him rolling over and handing the team over and not fighting back," said Adam Schlatner, a sports business attorney and commercial litigator.
Schlatner, who handles legal matters for the National Hockey League's New York Islanders' owner Charles Wang and has had dealings with clients involving the NBA, said the league might consider allowing Sterling to sell the team himself by a prescribed deadline.
But he predicted that, one way or another, Sterling would end up severed from the Clippers and would realise that "the franchise would not be economically viable if he continues to own it".