Disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been banned for life from the NBA for racist remarks he made in private. If Sterling does as expected and goes to battle in the courts, the Association has leverage in the form of contracts that can be used to justify its harsh punishment.
ESPN.com's Darren Rovell reported on the NBA's legal strategy regarding the Sterling situation on Tuesday:
[S]ources with knowledge of the league's strategy say that there are, in fact, actual contracts that it will maintain Sterling violated should he choose to fight the league's desire to force him to sell the team if the league can get the required 75 percent of owners to agree to make the move.
One of those documents, which Sterling signed when he first bought the Clippers in 1981, and signed various amended versions since, states that an owner will not take any position or action that will materially and adversely affect a team or the league. Owners also sign morals clauses, which state that they will be upheld to the highest standard of ethical and moral behavior.
Sports and entertainment attorney Darren Heitner provided his take on Rovell's report:
The NBA Advisory Committee convened last week to continue the process of terminating Sterling's ownership of the team, unanimously agreeing to expedite the move. As Rovell points out in his report, the NBA announced it will appoint a CEO to run the Clippers' operations.
It was then reported on Tuesday that president Andy Roeser would be taking an indefinite leave of absence, per Ken Berger of CBS Sports:
Clippers president Andy Roeser, Donald Sterling's son-in-law, will take an indefinite leave of absence, NBA announces.— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) May 6, 2014
"[Roeser's leave of absence] will provide an opportunity for a new CEO to begin on a clean slate and for the team to stabilize under difficult circumstances," said an NBA spokesman, per SI.com's Ben Golliver.
Otherwise, there haven't been a lot of updates on how the league plans to combat Sterling if he opts for litigation. The 80-year-old has plenty of funds at his disposal to get the best lawyers and attempt to hold his slipping grasp of his pro basketball franchise.
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But that may prove to be more difficult for Sterling than anticipated based on the information that's come to light, and sources tell Rovell that the league feels it has enough to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.
Amid this tremendous adversity involving Sterling, the team has carried on in the 2014 NBA playoffs. Coach Doc Rivers' LA squad defeated the Golden State Warriors in a tough seven-game first-round series and won Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The quicker a resolution can be reached, the better it will be for everyone involved with the Clippers. A lot of blurred lines regarding the right to privacy Sterling should have theoretically had when he uttered his racist words and the firepower he'd have in court threatens to drag this saga on for a significant period of time.
Having leverage in the form of contracts Sterling signed himself is a big edge for the NBA, as it needed something to justify how Sterling violated the NBA Constitution. Technicalities in the contractual language can work to both sides' benefit, though, so chances are it won't be quite enough to dismiss the possibility that Sterling can still win the likely legal clash.