The NBA has used the word "expeditiously" to indicate how fast it plans to act on matters related to Donald Sterling.
Until Monday, the definition of expeditiously was nebulous because there was no timetable established to terminate Sterling's ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers. How quickly can a league pry a franchise worth at least $1 billion from a person?
Now, we know. The league wants to terminate Sterling's ownership before the NBA Finals begin.
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Three weeks after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life, fined him $2.5 million and promised to urge owners to force a sale of the Clippers, the league formally charged Sterling on Monday with violating terms of its constitution and bylaws and gave him until May 27 to respond.
The league will hold a special meeting of the board of governors on June 3 in New York and vote to end Sterling's ownership of the Clippers.
Silver's predecessor, David Stern, always knew the vote count before the vote took place, and it's safe conclusion that Silver would not have taken this extreme and unprecedented measure if he didn't have full support of owners, many of whom have said they stand behind his decision.
VIDEO: Watch Silver's speech banning Sterling
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Clippers owner Donald Sterling's punishment, which included banning him for life from the NBA and a $2.5 million fine.
In announcing the charges, the NBA contends Sterling "engaged in conduct that has damaged and continues to damage the NBA and its teams. Among other things, Mr. Sterling disparaged African-Americans and minorities; directed a female acquaintance not to associate publicly with African-Americans or to bring African-Americans to Clippers games; and criticized African-Americans for not supporting their communities."
The league also asserts, "Sterling's actions and positions significantly undermine the NBA's efforts to promote diversity and inclusion; damage the NBA's relationship with its fans; harm NBA owners, players and Clippers team personnel; and impair the NBA's relationship with marketing and merchandising partners, as well as with government and community leaders. Mr. Sterling engaged in other misconduct as well, including issuing a false and misleading press statement about this matter."
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In its constitution and bylaws, the NBA has focused on Article 13(d) which states that a member or owner can be terminated if he or she fails or refuses "to fulfill its contractual obligations to the Association, its Members, Players, or any other third party in such a way as to affect the Association or its Members adversely."
Sterling and his attorney, Maxwell M. Blecher, received the charges by hand delivery on Monday, and Blecher told USA TODAY Sports in an e-mail, "We are studying the extensive charges served today by the NBA. Otherwise, we have no comment."
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USA TODAY Sports' Jeff Zillgitt examines the NBA's situation with suspended Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Sterling's wife, Shelly, and her attorney, Pierce O'Donnell received the charges Monday, too, and O'Donnell said, "Based on our initial assessment, we continue to believe there is no lawful basis for stripping Shelly Sterling of her 50% ownership interest in the Clippers."
The NBA already has responded to Shelly Sterling, saying that if the controlling owner's interest is terminated, all other owners' interests are terminated, too.
What next? Expect Donald Sterling to fight. USA TODAY Sports reported last week that Sterling won't pay the $2.5 million fine, and Blecher wrote in a letter to the NBA that Sterling does not warrant "any punishment at all." Blecher also said the matter will need to be settled in a court of law because the fine and lifetime ban violates Sterling's right to due process.
Given his proclivity to litigation, Sterling may file an injunction or a complaint in federal court to halt the NBA's proceedings.
"One would anticipate Sterling would both (A) respond that he does not feel he has violated the NBA constitution and (B) he will continue to weigh his options in filing in court because he doesn't feel the existing process is appropriate or that the league is following their constitution," sports law Warren K. Zola said.
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If the NBA prefers expeditious, Sterling wants protracted. Zola, an adjunct law professor at Boston College's Carroll School of Management, said, "It's obvious Sterling has no vested interest in the decision being rendered quickly."
Even so, Zola said the courts generally side with private companies when it comes to following internal a constitution and bylaws.
"Courts do not want to impose themselves on internal operations or an organization," Zola said. "When a group of people get together and agree upon how their organization is going to operate and follow the constitution and bylaws, courts are reticent to overturn."
If the hearing takes place as scheduled, Sterling has the right to counsel, but "strict rules of evidence shall not apply," according to the NBA's constitution. After considering all the evidence, the NBA's board of governors will vote on whether the charges "have been sustained in whole or in a part."
If three-fourths of owners vote to terminate, the league will take control of the Clippers and find a new owner.
The NBA wants that to happen sooner rather than later, and Sterling is in no rush. The NBA vs. Sterling is also expeditious vs. protracted.
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