The National Basketball Association on Thursday launched its bid to oust Donald Sterling as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers for racist comments as a panel of 10 fellow team owners or their proxies unanimously agreed to proceed “as expeditiously as possible,” the NBA said.
The decision, reached during a telephone conference call of the NBA Board of Governors` advisory-finance committee, seemed to indicate a strong base of support among Sterling`s fellow owners for his removal, as urged by league Commissioner Adam Silver.
Silver on Tuesday declared Sterling banned from the NBA for life, fined him $2.5 million – the league maximum – and called on the 29 other club owners who make up the governing board to exercise their authority to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.
The unprecedented move would require a three-fourths majority vote under the league`s constitution and bylaws. If approved, the board could then go further still and vote to seize ownership of the team for the NBA itself to sell, cutting Sterling out of the negotiations.
Silver and at least two of the owners, including the interim chairman of the board, Glen Taylor of the Minnesota Timberwolves, have expressed confidence they could muster the votes necessary to force a sale.
The teams represented in Thursday`s initial strategy session were Minnesota Timberwolves, the Miami Heat, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Los Angeles Lakers, the New York Knicks, the Boston Celtics, the San Antonio Spurs, and Phoenix Suns, the Indiana Pacers and the Toronto Raptors.
In a brief statement, the NBA said the panel discussed terminating Sterling`s ownership and “unanimously agreed to move forward as expeditiously as possible.” It said the panel would reconvene next week.
The committee`s decision was in line with an outpouring of support expressed by the owners as a whole for Silver following Tuesday`s announcement of a ban. But experts have suggested that some of Sterling`s fellow owners might be hesitant to support action they felt could set a precedent weakening their own future property rights.
Sterling, who bought the Clippers in 1981 for $13 million when the team was based in San Diego, has not indicated whether he would relinquish ownership without putting up a fight.
Experts have estimated that the franchise, which moved to Los Angeles in 1984, could now be worth as much as $1 billion, posing an enormous potential capital gains tax liability on Sterling if he were to sell the team.
A number of legal scholars and sports business analysts have said they expect Sterling and the NBA to be on a collision course that will be fought out in court.
“The guy has a reputation for being highly litigious. I just can`t possibly imagine him rolling over and handing the team over and not fighting back,” said Adam Schlatner, a sports business attorney and commercial litigator.