NBA Gets the Ban Ball Rolling; Hopes It Becomes Sterling's Head

Published on 20-May-2014 by Stacey Mickles
Basketball - NBA / NBA Daily Update

Blake Griffin

It's finally begun.

Now, the question will be whether the NBA's attempt to separate Donald Sterling from the Los Angeles Clippers will be its version of justice served or the legal world's circus of the year.

The league served notice yesterday that it will poll its governors on Tuesday 3 June on the issue of terminating Sterling's franchise rights. If 75% -- 23 of 30 -- vote in favor, then Sterling will have five business days to respond. He'll do so as a matter of record, but the odds are strong it won't make much of a difference.

If there was any doubt that Commissioner Adam Silver could raise the votes needed to oust Sterling, the billionaire bigot's comments during his Anderson Cooper interview put that total over the top. However, most owners realize this move is mostly for show. The real battle will be court, and that's where the bar gets raised.

This has been a given from the beginning:

It's rarely the good guys who are on the cutting edge of the law because, frankly, they don't need to be. The key to making the league's ruling stick will be on how narrowly a court's decision defines its right to govern itself.

The NBA's legal strategy is based on a clause that was intended to punish an owner for causing financial harm. The problem is that the 'harm' caused by sponsors cancelling contracts with the Clips is not statistically significant for a league that generates billions in revenues. Thus, the NBA will be left with an attempt to interpret the clause as an 'ethics' breach.

If the NBA's attorneys can sell that point in a court of law, they'll have truly earned the millions in fees they'll be receiving, no matter what the outcome. Because Sterling will come out swinging, and if a private citizen's legal rights become the tone of the proceedings, he's got more than a puncher's chance of keeping ownership of the Clips.

The ultimate irony would be in Sterling getting the upper hand because his civil rights were violated. If that's the direction the legal argument takes, look for the NBA to hurriedly scramble for some sort of face-saving settlement. What with the mood of the players toward Sterling, that may be the trickiest scenario yet.

If the NBA thinks everyone understands the removal of Sterling could take months, the NBA is seriously misguided. The league’s players want Sterling gone before the start of next season.

But if Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin, and crew claim they didn't know Sterling was a bigot before this, they're kidding themselves. Taking an action that would no doubt harm the league financially even more than Sterling did would be misguided to the point of hypocrisy. They and their predecessors in the Clips camp had no problem cashing his checks for the past two decades despite his sordid history of discrimination.

The Commish has his hands full, and not because he'll be holding the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the start of some team's championship celebration at the end of the season.

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