Audio recordings of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling ripping his girlfriend for “associating with black people” are everywhere.
The National Basketball Association is currently investigating those recordings and will unveil the first steps of their punishment on Tuesday as pressure is being put on the league by former players like Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabar to strip Sterling of his franchise.
So what options does the league have?
First, the NBA could decide to do nothing.
Don’t worry, they will act. Doing nothing would be more embarrassing for the league than Sterling’s comments. I’m just pointing out they don’t have to act.
Second, they could fine the Clippers owner and fine him big.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has paid over $2 million in fines over the years, mostly for his comments regarding officiating. In 2002, the outspoken Cuban was hit with the largest fine in league history for those criticisms. The fine was $500,000. Sterling’s fine could dwarf that.
It just probably won’t make a difference. Sterling is worth almost $2 billion. He could pay almost any fine the NBA could throw his way without batting an eye.
Third, the league could suspend him from basketball activities.
This, too, has happened before. Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor was banned from basketball activities after trying to subvert salary cap rules. Taylor was not allowed to “attend games, negotiate contracts or talk” to the media between October 2000 and August 2001.
Ironically, Taylor is currently the interim chairman of the NBA’s Board of Governors, so he could be very involved in any Sterling punishment.
There are rumors that the league is looking at an indefinite suspension for Sterling from all basketball activities. In other words, he could still own the Clippers but he wouldn’t be allowed to run the team or show up at games.
Here’s another wrinkle: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has only been on the job since February. This is his first big test as the top dog. Will he rule with an iron fist? He should. He should opt for both a massive fine and an indefinite suspension in hopes that Sterling will sell. The league can’t force him to sell his franchise, legally or otherwise (even with a “league’s best interests” clause in the bylaws).
The best option.
The best bet to get rid of Sterling once and for all would be to punish him enough in hopes he’ll walk away. Perhaps the league could help assemble a potential ownership group that could buy this team from him (rumors are Magic Johnson and the Guggenheims are interested). If that happens, Sterling could walk away with $1 billion (he bought the team in 1981 for $12 million). That profit and price will be worth it for the NBA to get an owner like that out of the NBA.