So, now the NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, has announced that Don Sterling will be forced to sell his team, the San Diego Clippers. The NBA relies on entertainment dollars. It cannot afford a team with such a despised owner. But, can the NBA force him to sell his team? What happened to free enterprise?
The NBA’s constitution provides that by a vote of three-fourths of the owners, the organization can indeed terminate an owner’s interest. But, the constitution is also very specific about what transgressions can trigger that provision. And, Mr. Sterling’s racist comments do not fit that provision. See ABA Bar Journal report. Mr. Silver indicated he had the three-fourths support he needed.
In response to such a lawsuit, the famously litigious Don Sterling could argue that the NBA has colluded against him in violation of anti-trust laws. Generally, says one expert, businesses may not cooperate to force a competitor out of business. But, the other owners could overcome that anti-trust protection if it could show that association with Mr. Stirling was causing harm to their businesses.
Gary Roberts, a well known sports attorney at Indiana University School of Law, says categorically that if Mr. Stirling challenges the ban, then he will lose. He cannot operate his business if no one plays for him. He cannot operate a bankrupt business. What Mr. Silver meant, said Mr.Roberts, is that the NBA owners will make his life so miserable and unprofitable that he will have no choice but to sell. Lawsuits may not help the litigious Don Sterling, after all.