It's a brand-new era in the NBA. Adam Silver is in charge, and he's giving the people what they want.
The new commissioner won legions of fans all across the basketball world on Tuesday afternoon, when he announced, per ESPN.com, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is banned for life over racist comments he made in recordings released by TMZ last Friday.
Silver did not equivocate; he did not bury his statements behind legalese or vague notions of protecting Sterling's privacy, nor did he mince words in his address, per Grantland's Zach Lowe: "Whether or not these remarks were initially shared in private, they are now public, and they represent his views.”
Not only did Sterling receive a lifetime ban, but the league office will fine him $2.5 million and pressure him to sell the team to outside interests.
Where does Silver get the authority to mete out such punishments? From the NBA's constitution—a secret document that, as of this afternoon, is no longer secret. In an unprecedented display of transparency, the league released the constitution and bylaws of the National Basketball Association on its official website.
Here is the full document in PDF form.
In case you were wondering where that $2.5 million amount came from, it is the maximum fine allowable, per Article 24(l). The clause also grants the commissioner the power to assess whatever penalty he deems to be "in the best interests of the Association":
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.
This clause is critical. Silver can punish Sterling in any way he sees fit, since "making racist comments to one's mistress" is obviously not a violation that was specifically covered anywhere else in the league's bylaws.
According to CBS Sports' Ken Berger, Sterling can be removed if he fails to pay the $2.5 million fine within 30 days:
Interesting subplot: Under NBA constitution, Sterling has 30 days to pay fine. If not, that in itself is grounds for his removal by board.— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) April 29, 2014
Article 13(a) lays out the process by which an owner can be voted out of the league:
The Membership of a Member or the interest of any Owner may be terminated by a vote of three fourths (3/4) of the Board of Governors if the Member or Owner shall do or suffer any of the following:
(a) Willfully violate any of the provisions of the Constitution and By-Laws, resolutions, or agreements of the Association.
Given the fact that all of the 29 other NBA owners have publicly lent their support to Silver, per Yahoo Sports' Dan Devine, the commissioner's position seems to be unassailable.
Adam Silver has the law on his side. More importantly, he has the owners on his side. Donald Sterling is going to have to sell the Los Angeles Clippers, whether he likes it or not.