SBD/May 5, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NBA Could Be In For Long Legal Battle Surrounding Attempt To Oust Sterling

Sterling will not be the one casting the Clippers' ballot
The clock "will not start ticking" on Donald Sterling’s ownership of the Clippers until at least later this week, when the NBA's 10-member advisory and finance committee has scheduled another conference call on an undisclosed day "that might determine an actual date for NBA owners to vote, an important element in the league’s attempt to force Sterling to sell the franchise," according to Mike Bresnahan of the L.A. TIMES. Assuming "at least 23 of the 30 owners vote yes on a sale, Sterling has five business days to respond from the time he is informed." The three-fourths majority is "expected to be met easily." The Clippers will "participate in an actual 30-member vote, but Sterling will not be the one casting a ballot after being banned for life from all NBA activities" by Commissioner Adam Silver. The Clippers' vote will go to team President Andy Roeser or coach Doc Rivers (LATIMES.com, 5/2). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Holman Jenkins Jr. wrote a sports league "doesn't, or shouldn't, need a legal exemption to force member teams to abide by the rules that are a condition of membership." The legal system's "only job is to enforce the contract that owners made with each other." An NBA effort to vote Sterling out "appears to fit reasonably within the league's own rules given the threat posed by the Clippers' free-falling sponsorship income -- at least it fits well enough that Mr. Sterling won't risk a prolonged fight that might undermine the windfall value of his major asset" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/3).

NOT SO FAST: L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti believes Sterling will fight the NBA in court. Garcetti: “I don't believe that he thinks the league will impose the sort penalties that they've said that they will.” Garcetti said of his conversation with Sterling, "He thinks that he's going to be the owner for a long time.” Garcetti was asked if he would he advocate a boycott of the Clippers if Sterling remains owner and said, "I would certainly keep that arrow in my quiver" ("Face The Nation," CBS, 5/4). In New Jersey, Steve Popper noted the forced sale "raises a battle that Sterling seems willing to fight." NBA agent Keith Glass said of Sterling, "This thing is going to have legs. I don’t think he’ll give up. I don’t think that’s his nature. Adam Silver went with the flow, but I think the ramifications of this, I don’t know what they are, but they’re going to be something unless this is a stand alone case, which is going to be hard to pull this off" (Bergen RECORD, 5/4).

TOUGH ROAD AHEAD: In N.Y., Mike Lupica wrote, "Ultimately, you know this isn’t about Sterling vs. Stiviano, it is Sterling vs. Silver." It is "one thing for Silver to stand up as big as he did on Tuesday against Sterling and another to see if he can make his ban and his desire to have Sterling sell the team stand up." MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and COO Rob Manfred "went after Alex Rodriguez and the Biogenesis All-Stars and built a case and won that case, even though people bloodied them and ridiculed them along the way." Lupica : "We will now begin to find out if Adam Silver, a smart lawyer, and his smart lawyers, can do the same with Sterling" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/4). Also in N.Y., William Rhoden wrote by the weekend, the "elation surrounding the lifetime ban" issued to Sterling "had given way to pragmatism." The "gushing declarations of support and full-throated praise" for Silver's ruling "had faded." Silver will have "more complicated matters to decide as his tenure continues, including labor issues, television contracts and player discipline." Tuesday was "a feel-good moment for everyone involved in the league." But Silver’s ruling was "not a milestone moment akin to Joe Louis’s victory over Max Schmeling, or Jackie Robinson’s breaking baseball’s color barrier, or President Obama’s winning his first term in the White House." Silver was "administering justice in a racially charged atmosphere in a league made up primarily of black players." That was "an easy call, but it’s not enough, and the hard part is to come" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/4). In N.Y., Tim Bontemps wrote Silver more than anything has "tried to give the players an opportunity to be heard -- something they clearly didn’t think they had sufficiently" during David Stern’s tenure. Stern’s "greatest strength and weakness were one and the same: his stubborn belief that he always possessed the best answers for the league he was shepherding along." Silver has "a decidedly different management style, one built on procedure and consensus." There "inevitably will be issues between Silver and the players," but if Silver "sticks to the same strategy of trying to build consensus, perhaps the two sides can begin to replicate the kind of relationship" MLB has developed with its players union across the past 20 years (N.Y. POST, 5/3).

PERFECT STORM: In Miami, Dan Le Batard wrote in terms of PR, there is "no hypothetical, fictional controversy an NBA owner could have brought upon his league worse than this one." An "old white guy -- an 'owner' by title, and sounding like a slave master -- appearing to not like black people in a league that is almost 80 percent black?" An owner "could have literally murdered someone without it quite becoming the noisy, entire-league-staining PR calamity this was." But if another owner, a "liked and respected owner, had been guilty of this and only this?" It would have been "noisy and resulted in punishment, but it wouldn’t have turned into a lifetime ban or the Sterling scandal" (MIAMI HERALD, 5/4).

A BORN LEADER: In Sacramento, Marcos Breton noted Kevin Johnson's "sudden involvement" in a national story that raged for days "was much like his emergence as Sacramento mayor: He came out of nowhere to be perfectly positioned when the lights and cameras turned on him." Then he "used his celebrity and his ability to influence to get what he wanted." When he held a news conference "to deliver player reaction to the NBA's ban on Sterling, he outshined everyone on stage." Breton: "You can question whether the mayor of Sacramento should be spending his time so prominently involved in an issue that has nothing to do with Sacramento. But you'd be wasting your time." In assessing Johnson's "impact and achievements -- the Kings, the arena, leading the U.S. Conference of Mayors, pushing the NBA to ban Sterling -- it's impossible to separate the KJ personal style from the results." Sources said that in keeping the Kings and pushing for a downtown arena, Johnson "was more than just a figurehead." Johnson's celebrity in the Sterling scandal "reflects positively on him personally and in his role as the mayor of Sacramento." His new post as leader of the U.S. Conference of Mayors "creates the possibility of Johnson using his access to the White House and other corridors of power for the betterment of Sacramento" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 5/4). In Boston, Derrick Jackson wrote Johnson "reminded us of the power of athletes when they raise their voice against injustice." But the question remains whether Johnson is "a unique comet rising out of a spoiled and self-indulgent universe of athletes who in recent decades have tended to flee political controversies, or will the leadership he displayed in the Sterling debacle inspire today's players to take much more serious stock of real-world dilemmas and disparities around them?" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/2). Johnson said "everyone is anticipating there will probably be a legal fight.” Johnson: “I'd like him to rethink that position. I think if Mr. Sterling was going to approach it the right way, he would apologize. He would embrace the sanctions and spend the rest of his life proving that he was not a racist." Johnson added that Silver’s actions “exceeded” the expectations of the NBPA ("Meet The Press," NBC, 5/4).

FACE THE NATION: In N.Y., Marjorie Connelly cited a N.Y. Times-CBS News poll as showing that while there is "wide support for the actions taken by the NBA, there are deep racial divisions among basketball fans." Some 65% of those polled said that Silver's ruling was "an appropriate response." Overall, 21% said that the league "had been too punitive" and 10% "considered Sterling’s penalty too lenient." Nearly 60% of black fans "think racist beliefs such as those expressed by Sterling are prevalent among team owners in professional sports; only 19 percent of white fans agree." Around 66% of black fans "also consider it acceptable for Sterling to be penalized for his bigoted remarks made in private." The controversy surrounding Sterling’s remarks "has garnered a lot of attention among the public," as75% of all adults and 86% of basketball fans "have heard a lot or some about the episode." The nationwide poll was conducted using landlines and cellphones on April 30 and May 1 among 1,054 adults, of whom 534 said they followed professional basketball. For "purposes of analysis, blacks were oversampled" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/3).
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