NBA Conundrum: Can It Act against Sterling if the Tape Is Illegal?
To paraphrase the late author Bill Speidel, some people are born bastards while others have to work at it -- hard -- every day.
It didn't seem worth it to research Donald Sterling's family tree. The fact that he's firmly established himself as one of the latter is strong enough.
In that respect, his latest incident of high jerkitude shouldn't be a surprise, and the resultant derision against him is well-justified on general principles alone. The civilized, enlightened world is -- and should be -- justifiably appalled.
There's a clear distinction between Sterling and his team, which Turner Broadcasting's analyst panel draws:
But NBA commish Adam Silver has a delicate row to hoe here:
- Sterling's alleged remarks were part of a private conversation that was taped;
- Allegedly, this was done by a mistress whom the Sterling family is suing;
- Allegedly, she said she'd 'get back' at him; and
- Allegedly, Sterling had no knowledge about the conversation being taped.
In California, there is no question that this tape recording is illegal:
It could be difficult for Silver to pass judgment on Sterling based on the contents of that tape. The NBA is not held to the same standards as a court of law, but it could find itself in front of the bench at the defendant's table if Sterling sued on grounds that had to do with any action by the league as a result of those contents.
Silver may be able to use Sterling's alleged apology as his recourse, but check its wording. There's wriggle room. Unless Silver insists Sterling patently admits to the conversation, the commish wouldn't have a clean legal line to Sterling's culpability.
There's no legal reason for Sterling to comply with such a demand. As well, he's obviously rich enough and has proven he's dirtbag enough to use the legal system in his favor.
The only comparable precedent for a major pro sports league to run an owner out of town was MLB's pressure on Cincinnati's Marge Schott, who could be Sterling's soul mate. It was an easier banishment, because her telling remarks were out there for all to hear.
Until Silver figures out how to proceed, if at all, Sterling would be well-advised to lay low. And there's a perfect place for him to do it, where he'd surely be among friends.
He just needs to ask if there's a spare bunk at Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch.