Sterling Threatens to Sue the NBA

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The disagreement between the NBA and Donald Sterling has taken a new twist. After being banned by the league, Sterling has refused to pay a $2.5 million fine levied against him based on racist comments. Sterling wrote a letter to league commissioner Adam Silver that he has done nothing wrong. He has threatened a lawsuit and has hired lawyer Greg Garbacz to represent him. [Note: Sterling filed a lawsuit on May 30, 2014.] Commentator Larry Coon, an expert on NBA governance, is not optimistic about Sterling’s chances of succeeding.

Mr. Coon suggests that the only effect of Sterling’s latest move will be to lengthen the process but not to change the outcome. Coon doesn’t see much merit in the letter, which cites Article 35 of the NBA’s constitution, but that provision applies to players, not to owners.

Larry Coon

Larry Coon

The letter also claims that Sterling hasn’t received due process. But Coon explains that there are several things that must be considered separately. The banning of Sterling and the fine are entirely in the discretion of the commissioner and are not subject to due process review under the league’s constitution. Sterling agreed to that provision by joining the league. Taking away the team is a different matter, and that is where the due process will come into play. The other owners will charge Sterling with a violation, Coon explains, and Sterling will then be given the chance to respond. The owners will hold a hearing and then vote on taking away the team.

Coon declines to speculate about allegations that Sterling might be suffering from dementia as a disability and what effect, if any, that condition would have on the outcome of the proceedings by the league. As to Sterling’s refusal to pay the fine, Coon opines that it was a mistake. Sterling could have said he was paying it under penalty and then have sought to get the money back. By not paying the fine, Sterling is in violation of another provision of the constitution and could be a ground for the league to take away the team.

Larry Coon is a computer scientist by both education and trade. He works as an IT Director at University of California, Irvine, and has also taught university Computer Science courses, specializing in database theory. He is also an NBA analyst, a writer, and the author of the NBA Salary Cap FAQ. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.