Pictured above and transcribed below is the confidential NBA bylaw at the heart of the question of what commissioner Adam Silver can do about Donald Sterling. It's from the league's constitution, which is unavailable to the public.
"Requiring the sale of a team would be the most severe sanction," said sports lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, a partner at Winston & Strawn LLP. "But I believe the NBA would take the position that the commissioner has the necessary authority to take action." He said article 35 of the NBA's constitutional bylaws—which aren't public—gives the commissioner those powers.
Others have said that the "broad powers" that Silver referenced are not meant for a situation like Sterling's. Here is the entirety of Article 35, as it appears in the materials we received from a source. Mostly, it concerns misconduct on the part of the players.
35. The provisions if this Article 35 shall govern all Players in the Association.
(a) Each Member shall provide and require in every contract with any of its Players that they shall be bound and governed by the provisions of this Article. Each Member, at the direction of the Board of Governors or the Commissioner, as the case may be, shall take such action as the Board or the Commissioner may direct in order to effectuate the purposes of this Article.
(b) The Commissioner shall direct the dismissal and perpetual disqualification from any further association with the Association or any of its Members, of any Player found by the Commissioner after a hearing to have been guilty of offering, agreeing, conspiring, siding or attempting to cause any game of basketball to result otherwise than on its merit.
(c) If in the opinion of the Commissioner any act or conduct of a Player at or during the Exhibition, Regular Season, or Playoff Game has been prejudicial to or against the best interests of the Association or the game of basketball, the Commissioner shall impose upon such Player a fine not exceeding $50,000, or may order for a time the suspension of any Player from any connection or duties with Exhibition, Regular Season, or Playoff Games, or he may order both such fine and suspension.
(d)The Commissioner shall have the power to suspend for a definite or indefinite period, or to impose a fine not exceeding $50,000, or inflict both such suspension and fine upon any Player who, in his opinion, (i) shall have made or caused to be made any statement having, or that was designed to have, an effect prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of basketball or of the Association or of a Member, or (ii) shall have been guilty of conduct that does not conform to standards of morality or fair play, that does not comply at all times with all federal, state, and local laws, or that is prejudicial or detrimental or the Association.
(e) Any Player who, directly or indirectly, entices, induces, persuades or attempts to entice, induce, or persuade any Player, Coach, Trainer, General Manager or any other person who is under contract to any other Member of the Association to enter into negotiations for or relating to his services or negotiates or contracts for such services shall, on being charged with such tampering, be given an opportunity to answer such charges after due notice and the Commissioner shall have the power to decide whether or not the charges have been sustained; in the event his decision is that the charges have been sustained, then the Commissioner shall have the power to suspend such Player for a definite or indefinite period, or to impose a fine, not exceeding $50,000, or inflict both such suspension and fine upon any such Player.
(f) Any Player who, directly or indirectly, wagers money or anything of value on the outcome of any game played by a Team in the league operated by the Association shall, on being charged with such wagering, be given an opportunity to answer such charges after due notice, and the decision of the Commissioner shall be final, binding and conclusive unappealable. The penalty for such offense shall be within the absolute and sole discretion of the Commissioner and may include a fine, suspension, expulsion and/or perpetual disqualification from further association with the Association or any of its Members.
(g) Except for a penalty imposed under Paragraph (f) of this Article 35: (i) any challenge by a Team to the decisions and acts of the Commissioner pursuant to Article 35 shall be appealable to the Board of Governors, who shall determine such such appeals in accordance with such rules and regulations as may be adopted by the Board in its absolute and sole discretion, and (ii) any challenge by a Player to the decisions or acts of the Commissioner pursuant to Article 35 shall be governed by the provisions of Article XXXI of the NBA/NBPA Collective Bargaining Agreement then in effect.
All emphasis added.
As you can see, the article does contain language that would apply to comments such as those made by Donald Sterling. However, it deals with the commissioner's powers as they relate to disciplining players. We spoke to a couple sports lawyers who weren't certain the article could apply to an owner, though they admitted they weren't experts on the NBA's bylaws. (Kessler, a veteran of several NBA labor fights, certainly is an expert.) Even if the article did apply to Sterling's comments, he'd still have some wiggle room as a first-time offender, at least as far as the NBA is concerned. Extraordinary action based on Article 35 alone seems unlikely.
We believe we'll have the rest of the NBA's constitution and bylaws for you later this week. However, if you have access to them and are inclined to pass them along in the meantime, you can reach us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update: Close enough!