If NBA Commissioner Adam Silver seemed especially forceful and confident when handing down Donald Sterling's lifetime ban on Tuesday, it was probably because he knew he had the unanimous backing of every owner in the league.
Silver dropped the hammer on Sterling as punishment for racist comments the now-banned Los Angeles Clippers owner allegedly made, levying the harshest punishments allowed by the NBA's constitution and by-laws.
There's no question Silver was within his authority to fine Sterling. He derived that authority from Article 24, subsection (l) of the league's constitution, which reads:
The Commissioner shall, wherever there is a rule for which no penalty is specifically fixed for violation thereof, have the authority to fix such penalty as in the Commissioner’s judgment shall be in the best interests of the Association. Where a situation arises which is not covered in the Constitution and By-Laws, the Commissioner shall have the authority to make such decision, including the imposition of a penalty, as in his judgment shall be in the best interests of the Association. The penalty that may be assessed under the preceding two sentences may include, without limitation, a fine, suspension, and/or the forfeiture or assignment of draft choices. No monetary penalty fixed under this provision shall exceed $2,500,000.
And there are numerous provisions that permit an "indefinite ban." Silver is on firm ground in those areas.
That's why, in the aftermath of his press conference, owners across the NBA voiced their support for the new commissioner's firm decision to fine and ban Sterling.
Where there weren't supportive tweets, there were official team press releases, including the following:
- Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, Toronto Raptors (via Raptors.com):
As a proud member of the National Basketball Association, we stand strongly in our belief that the comments attributed to Mr. Sterling have no place in our society or sport. Our organization will always work to contribute to a culture of diversity and acceptance in this league and fully support the actions taken today. We thank Commissioner Adam Silver, and all of the NBA players, for their leadership on this important issue.
- Clay Bennet, Oklahoma City Thunder (via Royce Young of ESPN):
The Oklahoma City Thunder strongly supports the decisive action taken today by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Ours is a league of inclusion, tolerance and fairness. The Thunder organization will continue to work to foster the tenets of diversity and respect, and build on that standard moving forward.
- Herb Simon, Indiana Pacers (via Pacers.com):
I wholeheartedly endorse Commissioner Adam Silver’s swift, strong and decisive action with regard to Donald Sterling. These past days have been both sad and disturbing for the NBA family. It is our responsibility to continue as models of the diversity and inclusion the NBA has long and justly represented.
- Brooklyn Nets (via NBA.com):
Today’s announcement by Commissioner Silver sends a strong message that racism and discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated in the NBA family. The Nets organization welcomes and fully supports the decision and remains committed to tolerance and respect for all. We can all be proud that the reaction throughout the NBA – from players, management, ownership and fans – has been unequivocal and united in condemning the scourge of racism.
- Josh Harris, Philadelphia 76ers (via NBA.com):
Without question, discrimination in any form is unacceptable and has no place in the National Basketball Association or anywhere else in society. The comments were hurtful and outrageous, and in no way reflect the values and beliefs of myself, our ownership group or the Philadelphia 76ers organization.
- Joe Lacob, Golden State Warriors (via NBC Bay Area):
We applaud the firm punishment handed out today by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and appreciate the swiftness with which the NBA conducted its investigation. Similarly, we anticipate that the NBA Board of Governors will act promptly to put this chapter behind us.
- Wyc Grousebeck, Boston Celtics (via NBA.com):
The entire Boston Celtics organization and our ownership group fully support the decisive action taken by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver today. The Celtics stand for inclusion and equality, and we are proud to be a part of a league that shares the same values.
- Jeanie Buss, Los Angeles Lakers (via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times):
In today's announcement, Adam was decisive, firm and compelling and showed great leadership in his condemnation of the horrible and offensive comments that have led to this action.
- Orlando Magic (via NBA.com):
The Orlando Magic feel the recent reprehensible comments by Donald Sterling were absolutely unacceptable and do not reflect the values and beliefs of our organization or our league. We applaud the leadership of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, as well as Head Coach Doc Rivers and his players, who are at the epicenter of the situation.
- Denver Nuggets (via NBA.com):
Kroenke Sports & Entertainment and the Denver Nuggets wholeheartedly and emphatically support Commissioner Adam Silver's decision that Donald Sterling be fined and banned for life from any involvement with the National Basketball Association.
The most powerful portion of Silver's address was his vehement pledge to get rid of Sterling once and for all. He didn't phrase it quite that way, of course. But that was the effect of his urging the other 29 owners in the league to force a sale of the Clippers.
"As for Mr. Sterling’s ownership interest in the Clippers, I will urge the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team and will do everything in my power to ensure that that happens."
This is the tricky part. There's definitely a provision in the league's by-laws that gives the other owners the authority (by three-fourths vote) to terminate Sterling's ownership, but only if he has violated a part of the constitution.
Article 13 lays out a handful of violations that qualify, but most pertain to gambling, fixing games and failing to make proper payments to employees or the league itself. There's a broader catch-all that says an owner can be terminated by vote if he "Willfully (violates) any of the provisions of the Constitution and By-Laws, resolutions, or agreements of the Association," which is most likely the provision on which Silver's recommendation to the other owners rests.
It's just that no section clearly lists what Sterling allegedly said as grounds for a potential termination vote.
Perhaps that's why far fewer owners offered specific support for Silver's recommendation to vote Sterling out of the club.
In fact, Houston Rockets owner Les Alexander counseled Silver on his options days before Sterling's punishment was announced. In his explanation to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, Alexander explained the difficulties behind such a vote and even suggested making the Clippers players free agents as an alternative:
I told Adam I don’t think he can be removed because the constitution (of the NBA) only allows him to be removed except for gambling. I’m not sure that legally can be done. But if he loses his players, nobody is going to want to go there. He’ll only be able to get a player that is worth $2 million and will play for $12 (million.) And who is going to want to coach there?
That's not to say every owner avoided committing to something that might not be technically possible. There were a few impassioned souls who spoke out loudly.
Vivek Ranadive is one of the NBA's newest majority owners, having led the group that bought the Sacramento Kings less than a year ago.
Now, he's ready to lead another: the group that votes to kick Sterling out of the exclusive 30-member club of NBA owners.
"The NBA, and I call it NBA 2.0, is a global game, it's a global brand," Ranadive told Henry Abbot of ESPN. "It has a universality to it. And so I will not just second the motion, but lead the motion for us to do as Adam recommends. I believe that the other owners will support it as well."
Others offered a similar pledge.
Across the board, NBA owners agree with Silver's decision to fine and ban Sterling. And though most of them have offered unqualified support for all of the commissioner's recommendations, not everyone seems ready to commit to the vote.
We probably shouldn't view that as any old-boys'-club endorsement of Sterling or his alleged beliefs. Instead, we should see it as smart business men taking a prudent approach to a complicated issue.
It certainly seems every owner in the league wants Sterling gone, but some of their carefully chosen words indicate many of them know they're in for a fight.