Embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has no intention of accepting two-thirds of the punishment imposed upon him by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
He may be staying away from his team and the league, but he will not pay the $2.5 million fine levied against him and he will sue the league to retain ownership of the team, employing the “hell, no, I won’t go” philosophy everyone expected when Silver handed down punishment for racist remarks April 29. Michael McCann of SI.com reports that Sterling has informed the NBA of his intentions in a letter and has hired antitrust lawyer Maxwell Blecher. Quoting an unnamed source, McCann writes that Sterling and his lawyer told Rick Buchanan, NBA executive vice-president and general counsel, that “we reject your demand for payment” in a letter written in response to notification that Sterling had missed the deadline for payment. Blecher contends that the fine violates Sterling’s right to due process.
In the letter, the source tells McCann that Sterling’s lawyer claimed he did nothing wrong, which does not jibe with Sterling’s comment to Anderson Cooper earlier this week that “I made a terrible, terrible mistake.” McCann writes that the letter lays out the legal foundation for Sterling’s fight.
First, Blecher claims that Sterling has not violated any article of the NBA constitution. The letter curiously references Article 35, which governs players’ misconduct, and several other provisions. The NBA is expected to argue that Sterling violated Article 13(d) among other provisions. Article 13 (d) bars owners from violating contractual obligations, including the obligation that owners no engage in unethical conduct or take positions adverse to the NBA. Blecher does not explain how he intends to prove Sterling’s racist remarks captured on the secret recording — followed by Sterling’s incendiary remarks to Anderson Cooper about Magic Johnson — do not give rise to unethical conduct or positions adverse to the NBA.
Second, Blecher argues that Sterling’s “due process rights” have been violated by the NBA. A due process claim may sound superficially reasonable. After all, Sterling was banned permanently from the NBA after a mere four-day investigation, without any formal proceedings. If the NBA were a federal agency or a state college, Sterling might have a good argument, as those are public entities that must provide safeguards found under the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions. The problem for Sterling is that the NBA is a private association and is not required to provide due process rights. Sterling, moreover, contractually assented to the NBA’s system of justice through various contracts, including his franchise agreement to purchase the Clippers and the joint venture agreement, which indicates the NBA has binding authority over the teams.
Blecher has long represented the litigation-loving, 80-year-old owner. He represented Sterling when he moved the Clippers from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984 and was fined $25 million. Sterling sued then, the fine was reduced to $6 million and he abandoned the lawsuit.