NBA turns up the heat on Donald Sterling
League formally charges Clippers owner over his racist remarks and sets the stage for fellow team owners to kick him out of the business
The National Basketball Association stepped up its drive to oust Donald Sterling as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, formally charging that his racist remarks damaged the league and paving the way for fellow team owners to decide his fate next month.
The league said Sterling has until Tuesday to respond to its charge and may present his side at a special hearing before the NBA board of governors set for June 3, after which the league's 29 other owners who make up the board could vote to remove him.
Sterling, 80, who has owned the Clippers for 33 years, came under fire more than three weeks ago when TMZ.com posted an audio recording of him berating a female friend for publicly associating with black people, including former NBA great Earvin "Magic" Johnson.
The recording sparked an uproar from fans, NBA players and commercial sponsors.
The furore led NBA commissioner Adam Silver to ban Sterling for life from the NBA and to call on the other owners to force Sterling to relinquish team ownership.
Such an unprecedented move requires a three-quarters vote of the board.
Sterling has refused to pay a US$2.5 million fine levied against him by the league and threatened through his lawyer to take legal action against any forced sale of the Clippers.
Breaking his own silence about the controversy last week, Sterling apologised in a CNN interview for his "terrible mistake", while insisting he was "baited" into making provocative remarks and accusing the media of inflaming his predicament.
But he stoked further outrage during the interview by saying Johnson was a poor role model for children and suggesting that Johnson and other blacks do little to support their own communities, a comment the NBA cited in its notice on Monday.
In a summary of its charge against Sterling, the league said his conduct undermined the NBA's efforts to promote diversity and inclusion; damaged its relationship with fans; harmed other NBA owners, players and the Clippers personnel; and impaired the league's relationship with marketing and merchandising partners, as well as with government and community leaders.
The NBA also said its inquiry into the scandal revealed that "evidence was destroyed" and that "false and misleading evidence" was provided to league investigators.
Those acts, the NBA said, provide grounds for Sterling's termination under the NBA constitution and by-laws.
Sterling's lawyer, Maxwell Blecher, asked for a three-month delay in response to the charge, a person with knowledge of the situation said, confirming a report by SI.com
The league would not grant it, the person said.
Sterling's wife, Shelly, who co-owns the team through a family trust, has said she would fight any attempt to force her to give up her interest in the club.
Shelly Sterling's lawyer, Pierce O'Donnell, said he was reviewing the charges.
"Based on our initial assessment, we continue to believe there is no lawful basis for stripping Shelly Sterling of her 50 per cent ownership interest in the Clippers," said lawyer Pierce O'Donnell.
"She is the innocent estranged spouse. We also continue to hope that we can resolve this dispute with the NBA for the good of all constituencies."
Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, the board chairman, will preside over the hearing in New York, which is planned for two days before the start of the NBA finals.
Silver has said he is confident that he has the 23 votes that are necessary to force Sterling to sell.
The Los Angeles Clippers were eliminated from the second round of the NBA play-offs last Thursday by the Oklahoma City Thunder.