On May 30, 2014, the lawyers representing Donald Sterling, the controversial ex-owner of the National Basketball Association (“NBA”) franchise, the Los Angeles Clippers (“Clippers”), filed a complaint before the U.S. District Court in the Central District of California to fight an order by the NBA that would force him to divest his ownership in the Clippers, be banned for life from the NBA, as well as pay a $2.5 million fine.
The lawsuit names the NBA and its commissioner, Adam Silver, as the defendants. The NBA and Silver slapped the punishments on Donald Sterling after a tape containing racist remarks made by the latter was made public.
The complaint alleges that the NBA violated California’s constitution, the NBA’s own constitution, and the Sherman Antitrust Act through its proscribed punishments against Mr. Sterling. The complaint hinges on the fact that the cause of the entire controversy—and the sole reason behind the NBA’s decision to penalize Mr. Sterling—is the tape containing Mr. Sterling’s remarks, which, as the complaint pointed out, was illegally recorded without Mr. Sterling’s knowledge, is inadmissible in court, and violates Mr. Sterling’s rights under California’s Constitution. The NBA, as a result, had no legal reason to penalize Mr. Sterling. Moreover, the complaint points out that the NBA and Commissioner Silver are not authorized to levy any of its punishments on Mr. Sterling per the NBA constitution or its by-laws, since Mr. Sterling’s comments did not violate any part of the NBA’s constitution or its by-laws. The complaint also noted that many other NBA franchise owners or players who made similar controversial comments have not been punished as severely as Mr. Sterling; some have not even been punished at all by the Association.