Donald Sterling could sue. He could claim that NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s lifetime ban for Sterling’s racist remarks is a violation of antitrust law. Sterling is a lawyer and could argue that throwing him out of the league, and forcing him to sell the Los Angeles Clippers, is restraint of trade.
Of course, Sterling could lose. There is, Baruch College law professor Marc Edelman said, “a narrow exception from the antitrust law ... that leaves open the possibility that a trade association might be able to ban one of its members if the member’s conduct would expose the entire industry to forward-looking liability.”
Such as litigation by the NBA Players Association.
“Another possibility,” said Edelman, an expert on legal matters in sports, “is that these statements by Sterling open up the team, and perhaps the entire league, to claims of a hostile environment and other forms of race-based discrimination.”
Still, Sterling could sue. “This is a man who has shown an unwillingness to take the easier road,” Northeastern University law professor Roger Abrams said. “He has always taken the route of the flagrant foul and has had extraordinary success — in court, in business, even in changing his name.” (Born Donald Tokowitz, he legally added “Sterling” as an adult because it telegraphed prosperity.)
It will require a three-quarters majority of NBA owners to compel Sterling’s sale of the Clippers. “But another factor,” Edelman said, “is that based on the reaction of several national sponsors to Donald Sterling’s comments, the value of that franchise would continue to fall as long as Sterling is at the helm. One could argue that, legal rights aside, Sterling’s best financial decision would be to sell the team immediately.”
Abrams, who blogs for the Huffington Post on matters of sports and law, said that “one part of me wanted to see Sterling twist slowly in the wind. Because every time his name is mentioned, people will remember that there is deeply ingrained, in this society, a racism that is disgusting.
“The more I thought about it, the more I realized that what you do is you put out your trash. You don’t leave the trash in your house.”
And if Sterling sues? “Good luck!” said Abrams, whose first lesson to his law students is the declaration, “Don’t sue. Because if you sue, everyone who hasn’t heard the story will hear it. We’ll probably now hear of the legal options; that will make news. But the NBA wanted to make sure this was old news.”