Historical nuggets are the best nuggets! In 1982, the NBA convened a special committee of owners, who unanimously recommended that the league force Donald Sterling to sell the Clippers. It didn't, and you know how that went.
The L.A. Times dug through its archives to find a story that was covered pretty thoroughly at the time, but largely forgotten now. The then-San Diego Clippers were a mess of a franchise after Sterling bought them in 1981. In attempts to cut costs, Sterling fell behind on paychecks, forced players to fly coach despite first class being mandated in their contracts, and attempted to move the team to L.A. (He would successfully relocate in 1984, still without the NBA's approval.)
There was a tape involved, too. Sterling was recorded saying his team needed to finish last to land Ralph Sampson in the draft—yes, the NBA used to get upset about tanking.
A special six-owner committee formed by the Board of Governors recommended that the NBA terminate Sterling's ownership. "He's as good as gone," one NBA exec told the Times. A month after that meeting, according to a contemporary AP report, the NBA ordered the league's other teams not to conduct any business with the Clippers without first gaining league approval.
So why did Sterling keep the team? After the committee met, the next step was for the league's Advisory-Finance Committee to review the recommendations, before passing it on for a full vote of the Board of Governors. It never made it that far. A week after the six-owner committee met, Sterling announced he wanted sell the team. The furor died down, and five months later, NBA president David Stern (Larry O'Brien was the commissioner) announced that the league was no longer pursuing action.
The process for ousting an owner in 2014 is remarkably similar. Sterling's current case is set to be heard by the Advisory-Finance Committee today, and after that, on to the Board of Governors