Basketball / Sports

NBA sets hearing to remove Sterling, says he's still damaging league

LOS ANGELES -- The NBA filed formal allegations Monday and set a June 3 hearing in its effort to strip Donald Sterling of his ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers, citing conduct that the league said "damaged and continues to damage the NBA and its teams."

The league said it intends to present evidence at the hearing to try to persuade three-quarters of the NBA's owners to terminate "all ownership interests in the Clippers," meaning that Sterling and his wife, Shelly, would be forced to sell the team they have owned for 33 years.

A summary of the allegations claimed that Sterling significantly undercut the NBA's efforts to promote "diversity and inclusion" when he was caught in an audio recording asking a frequent companion to refrain from being seen in public with black people or taking them to Clippers games.

Although the NBA did not release the full accusation, a news release confirmed what many observers suspected: that the 80-year-old Clippers owner further damaged his cause when he gave an interview last week to CNN. The NBA cited Sterling's assertion in that interview that African-Americans do not support their communities as another example of how he had undermined the league.

The NBA statement said that Sterling's words damaged not only the league's attempts at inclusiveness but damaged relationships with fans, marketing partners and government and community leaders. Additional harm has been suffered by NBA owners, players and Clippers team personnel, the league claimed.

Asked to respond, Sterling attorney Maxwell Blecher said he was reviewing the charges and had no comment. Pierce O'Donnell, Shelly Sterling's lawyer, said the "voluminous" allegations offered "no lawful basis for stripping Shelly Sterling of her 50 percent ownership interest in the Clippers." O'Donnell called his client "the innocent estranged spouse."

The furor began April 25, when the website TMZ posted an audio recording in which Sterling told companion V. Stiviano he didn't want to see her around African-Americans. His rant followed Stiviano's posting on Instagram of a photo in which she posed with former Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson.

Days later, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million, banned him from the league for life and asked fellow owners to jettison their longest-tenured colleague.

Monday's action marks the formal start of the ownership termination process. Under the NBA constitution, Sterling has until May 27 to respond. At the special June 3 NBA governors meeting, he will have the right to make his case for remaining in the league. Glen Taylor, owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, will preside.

The NBA also cited Sterling for additional misconduct that it said included issuing "a false and misleading press statement" -- presumably a reference to an initial claim that the audio recording made by Stiviano may have been edited to distort his views.

In his interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, Sterling did not deny he made the comments, but said that they did not represent his true feelings. He said Stiviano had "baited" him into making the statements and that he was at least partly motivated by jealousy. He insisted he was not a racist.

The NBA constitution allows for termination of league membership for a variety of reasons. While specific provisions refer to illegal gambling or a failure to pay bills, Article 13 of the constitution includes a catch-all termination provision for owners who "fail or refuse to fulfill its contractual obligations to the Association, its members, players, or any third party in such a way as to affect the association or its members adversely."

Blecher issued a statement last week saying that Sterling would fight the $2.5 million fine, saying the NBA had violated his due process rights. The attorney, who first joined Sterling in fighting the NBA more than 30 years ago, asserted that Sterling did not deserve "any punishment at all."

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