With the question looming of whether Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling will go to court if forced to sell the team, NBC Sports analyst Bob Costas said the NBA may be in for a legal fight that could bring negative facts about other team owners to light in the process.
Sterling was hit with a lifetime ban and fined $2.5 million by NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Tuesday due to racist remarks he made on audio recordings that were posted on TMZ Sports and Deadspin this past weekend.
Sterling could also be forced to sell the team if three-quarters of the other 29 owners in the NBA vote for that to happen, according to the bylaws of the NBA constitution. Silver said he will do everything in his power to make that happen.
Costas told Matt Lauer on TODAY Wednesday that a court case could raise issues for Sterling's fellow owners.
"If Donald Sterling, a very litigious man — he lives to go to court, that's what his life has been built around — if he decides to take this to court, in some way, even if he loses, there's discovery (in the court case),'' Costas said. "Now let me tell you what I know about Owner A, Owner B and Owner C. Everybody gets dragged in. I think there's some people who have some concerns, even though they're going to vote against Sterling because they should."
And Sterling may not have any real options, litigation-wise, when it comes to fighting the vote, according to Costas.
"It's going to be 29-0 or 29-1 if the Sterling family or their representatives are able to vote,'' he said. "From what I understand, a lot of what is in the NBA constitution was not publicly known, even by people who cover the league day-in and day-out. Apparently, there's a clause that says if three-quarters of the owners vote this way to cast out one of their members, then that member has no other legal recourse. It's binding."
After an audio tape was published online over the weekend in which Sterling could be heard making racist remarks about African-Americans in a private conversation with then-girlfriend V. Stiviano and telling her not to bring NBA legend Magic Johnson to any Clippers games, an immediate investigation was opened on April 26. Silver met with Sterling, who confirmed it was his voice on the recording.
Stiviano's attorney said a third party was present when the tapes were made and that the recordings were not private or made illegally. He added that "my client didn't want any harm to come to Donald. She's very saddened that (the) NBA did what they did."
The crisis around Sterling has been the league's first in Silver's short tenure as commissioner, after he took over in February for David Stern, the NBA's legendary commissioner since 1984. "(Silver) had no choice but to act decisively, but I think he dotted every 'i' and crossed every 't,''' Costas said. "This was his first big test after some 20 years as a lieutenant to David Stern. This is a very, very smart and capable guy, and he did it without any histrionics. He did what he had to do, and I think he satisfied all parties."
The NBA would've taken "a huge punch in the gut" had Silver not acted strongly, as there were threats of player boycotts throughout the league, Costas added.
The decision rendered on Sterling could also put other owners on their toes as far as watching what they say and do in seemingly private situations.
"I'm sure that all 29 of them are offended by what this represents and what his comments represent,'' Costas said. "This is an open-and-shut case. No one is going to defend it. No one is going to try to soft-pedal what it means, so in that sense, it's easy to get anonymity (in the vote to make him sell the team).
"On the other hand, what's the precedent? I can imagine some of these guys saying, especially in this day and age, what if some off-the-cuff remark I made, certainly not as bad as what Donald Sterling has done and done at other times of his life, but some off-the-cuff remark I made (becomes public), some joke I told, some cell phone video or someone taping me without my knowledge."
The Clippers took a 3-2 lead in their first-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors with a win on Wednesday night in their first game back on their home floor since the situation with Sterling erupted. After Silver announced his ruling, the Clippers' website featured the message "We are one" on its homepage, and Silver's action was applauded by the players.
"I didn't think it was going to be as big as it was, but it was definitely the right thing,'' Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin told reporters.
The ruling also has some in the organization wondering what's next.
"The next step is, where do we go?'' head coach Doc Rivers said. "If you think about it, I'm coaching the team right now, and I actually don't know who to call if I need something."