What can the NBA actually do to Clippers owner Sterling?
Corinne Ton That, CTVNews.ca
Published Sunday, April 27, 2014 5:57PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, April 27, 2014 9:35PM EDT
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling may face a suspension of a year or two and a fine in the $5-milllion-range, but he won’t be expelled from the league for allegedly making racist remarks which were captured in an audio recording, a sports legal analyst says.
Former NBA player Magic Johnson joined the chorus of NBA voices expressing outrage over Sterling’s alleged remarks on Sunday, saying the Clippers owner “shouldn’t own a team anymore.”
“And he should stand up and say ‘I don’t want to own a team anymore,’” said Johnson. “This is bad for everybody, it’s bad for America.”
But if the NBA tries to force Sterling to sell the Clippers, the billionaire owner of the team could sue the league for anti-trust violation, said sports legal analyst Eric Macramalla.
“That could be a damage award in the hundreds of millions of dollars against the NBA,” he told CTV News Channel Sunday.
In the recording released by gossip website TMZ on Saturday, a man, purported to be Sterling, tells a woman not to bring black people to NBA games. The woman is reportedly Sterling’s girlfriend, identified as V. Stiviano.
The Clippers and the NBA are currently investigating the recording, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver saying he’s hoping for a swift resolution on the matter.
Macramalla said the next step in the investigation is to authenticate the voice in the clip and to authentic the recording to make sure it hasn’t been tampered with.
Layth Gafoor, sports and entertainment lawyer, said there are a number of ways to ensure the authenticity of the clip.
“You can do it through an audio specialist or you can have people compare the voice of the person that’s there, but it is really important, that from a technical perspective, that that is followed from the league itself," Gafoor told CTV News Channel.
The Clippers haven’t said the voice in the recording belongs to Sterling, “so that’s the first part of the investigation, to ensure that it is indeed authentic,” said Macramalla.
And if the recording is indeed authentic, Sterling could be slapped with hefty fines and a suspension from the league, similar to what former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott faced after making homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic comments.
“As a result, she was suspended for a total of three years. We will see a suspension here I believe of a year or two, and massive fine perhaps of $5 million, but (Sterling) is not going to be expelled from the league,” said Macramalla.
The NBA, however, has never actually suspended an owner from the league, Gafoor said.
Gafoor added that while owners may not be in support of Sterling’s remarks, they wouldn’t necessarily want a legal precedent to be set, “which is the commissioner of the league itself, either taking away a team or suspending an owner.”
“I think what they can do is silently push him off to the side,” said Gafoor.
And while Sterling may face repercussions, Gafoor said California’s penal law makes it illegal for anyone to privately record a conversation between individuals.
“So one of the key pieces to this actual audio tape is whether or not the purported recorder of this has actually a legally recorded statement,” said Gafoor.
This isn’t the first time Sterling has drawn attention for making controversial comments. The embattled owner has a history of discrimination and making racially insensitive remarks.
“There are lot of people in the NBA -- executives -- who want Sterling gone, and have wanted him gone for a long time,” said Macramalla.
In 2006, Sterling was sued for housing discrimination after being accused of driving out Latinos and African Americans from his apartment building.
And in 2009, Sterling was sued by his former general manager Elgin Baylor for wrongful dismissal from the team, and for discrimination based on race and age.