The ousted Donald Sterling will not sit idly as the NBA finds a way to fully remove his association with the Clippers. According to an SI report, Sterling has hired a lawyer, who has already sent a letter to the NBA rejecting their $2.5 million fine.
Sterling has reportedly hired Maxwell Blecher, an antitrust litigator with a background in sports. Blecher sent a letter to NBA executive vice president and general counsel Rick Buchanan informing the league that Sterling would not pay the $2.5 million which was part of Sterling's punishment, and hints at the potential filing of a lawsuit.
In addition, Blecher provides two defenses for Sterling, which Michael McCann breaks down well:
First, Blecher claims that Sterling has not violated any article of the NBA constitution. The letter curiously references Article 35, which governs players' misconduct, and several other provisions. The NBA is expected to argue that Sterling violated Article 13(d), among other provisions. Article 13 (d) bars owners from violating contractual obligations, including the obligation that owners no engage in unethical conduct or take positions adverse to the NBA. Blecher does not explain how he intends to prove Sterling's racist remarks captured on the secret recording — followed by Sterling's incendiary remarks to Anderson Cooper about Magic Johnson — do not give rise to unethical conduct or positions adverse to the NBA.
Second, Blecher argues that Sterling's "due process rights" have been violated by the NBA. A due process claim may sound superficially reasonable. After all, Sterling was banned permanently from the NBA after a mere four-day investigation, without any formal proceedings. If the NBA were a federal agency or a state college, Sterling might have a good argument, as those are public entities that must provide safeguards found under the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions. The problem for Sterling is that the NBA is a private association and is not required to provide due process rights. Sterling, moreover, contractually assented to the NBA's system of justice through various contracts, including his franchise agreement to purchase the Clippers and the joint venture agreement, which indicates the NBA has binding authority over the teams.
The letter apparently also claims that Sterling has done nothing wrong, which seems odd given his bizarre apology sitdown with Anderson Cooper earlier this week. And even if Sterling doesn't shell out for the fine, Brian Windhorst believes the league can take it from other sources.
Adam Silver's swift punishment for Sterling was admirable, but despite the commissioner's best efforts, the booting wasn't going to be that simple. Regardless of when the Clippers' playoff run concludes, the pieces are falling into place for a legal battle in the offseason.