The NBA's constitution and bylaws lay out a speedy resolution for termination of ownership, but that does not take into account the possibility that Donald Sterling drags the league into a long court battle over Commissioner Adam Silver's decision to attempt to force him to sell the Los Angeles Clippers.
At least one person who has battled Sterling in court — lawyer Carl E. Douglas — thinks that's exactly what will happen, and the NBA is prepared for that.
"Donald Sterling is a surly, defiant, tyrannical rich guy who is a bully and used to having his way," Douglas said.
The NBA's finance advisory committee — which is considered the league's executive committee — will convene Thursday via conference call to discuss Sterling and the league's next steps.
That committee comprises Miami Heat owner Micky Arison; Los Angeles Lakers president and governor Jeanie Buss; Oklahoma City Thunder chairman Clay Bennett; New York Knicks owner James Dolan; Boston Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck; Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver; San Antonio Spurs chairman Peter Holt; Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon; Toronto Raptors chairman Larry Tanenbaum; and Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, who is the chair of the committee and interim chair of the Board of Governors.
Each has voiced support for Silver, who banned Sterling from NBA for life, fined him $2.5 million and said he will force Sterling to sell the team.
There is a process and timeline the NBA must follow in order to oust Sterling, and that is detailed in its constitution and bylaws. Silver has three days to provide Sterling with the charges, Sterling has five days to respond and the Board of Governors then will vote within 10 days of Sterling's response, according the constitution and bylaws.
In a best-case scenario, NBA owners could vote to remove Sterling and force him to sell the team in mid-May. It requires a vote of three-quarters of the Board of Governors to terminate Sterling's ownership.
But Sterling is expected to throw up a roadblock, filing an injunction to stop the NBA from proceeding. One possible route Sterling could take is claiming an antitrust violation and saying the NBA is trying to undermine the value of his franchise and injure the competitive process of the league.
Reached by e-mail, longtime Sterling attorney Bob Platt, who is listed as the team's general counsel, said he had no comment.
Lawyers are debating the merits of potential claim, and antitrust attorney Jeffrey I. Shinder doesn't think Sterling would have a strong case.
"While a tactical antitrust suit is certainly possible, it should fail," he said. "Sterling will be hard-pressed to show injury to competition as opposed to his own self-inflicted injuries. The repugnance of his conduct and its potential harm to the league and to the Clippers would easily support the NBA's defense of such a suit."
At the very least, it could drag out the longer than the NBA wants.
Sterling relishes litigation and has a history of being plaintiff and defendant. He once sued former Clippers coach Bill Fitch for not actively looking for a job after the team fired him, and former Clippers coach and GM Mike Dunleavy went to arbitration when Sterling stopped paying him after Dunleavy was fired. Former Clippers coach Bob Weiss went to court and fought for money he said Sterling owed him.
Douglas represented Hall of Famer and former Clippers executive Elgin Baylor in Baylor's 2009 age and racial discrimination suit.
"Over the course of six or seven deposition sessions and I examined him in trial, he consciously will do or say anything to support his position," Douglas said. "When we would have our depositions, he would snarl his answers. His lawyer is part of law firm (Manatt, Phelps & Phillips), and they are accustomed to steamrolling everyone."