Here’s a look at the possible sanctions the NBA could impose on Donald Sterling in the wake of racist remarks allegedly made by the Clippers owner:
1. A fine. It’s safe to assume Sterling will be opening his checkbook as part of any package of penalties the league intends to levy. The question is how many zeros will be on the end of the figure.
It seems reasonable to believe that any fine would have to be $1 million or more to send any kind of message, though it would probably need to be much higher to even register with a billionaire who has already paid millions as part of settlements involving past racial indiscretions.
2. A suspension. The National Basketball Players' Assn. has already asked the NBA to keep Sterling away from remaining playoff games this season, which would amount to a de facto suspension for the remainder of the postseason.
The players' union also has pushed for the maximum allowable penalties under league bylaws, which could include a lengthy suspension stretching into next season. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who is assisting the players union in the Sterling probe, said antitrust regulations that govern the NBA differ from those related to Major League Baseball, meaning the NBA may not be able to prevent Sterling from running the day-to-day activities of his team, a la Marge Schott, the late Cincinnati Reds owner who was barred from her team in the wake of a litany of racist comments.
3. Put pressure on him to sell the team. This is where things really get tricky. A league source said it’s unlikely the NBA would try to compel Sterling to sell the team he has owned for 30 years because of the possibility of a vicious legal battle that could cost the league millions and result in Sterling keeping the team should he prevail, not to mention create a years-long distraction as the litigation plays out.
But the league and Sterling’s fellow owners could certainly pressure him to sell the team by publicly campaigning for change. Several owners have already spoken out in protest of Sterling’s alleged remarks and could make things uncomfortable for him by continuing to address the issue through social and traditional media until he sells the team. One sensible successor would be Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson, who Sterling disparaged in his alleged remarks about blacks to a female friend.
Another avenue to get Sterling to sell the team would be for his wife, Rochelle, to file divorce papers that would require her husband to pay her 50% of community assets per California law. Divorce proceedings involving former San Diego Padres owner John Moores forced him to sell the team in 2012.