Clippers owner Donald Sterling "engaged in conduct that has damaged and continues to damage the NBA" when he disparaged black people in a recorded conversation that led the league's commissioner to call for his removal, according to a charge issued Monday by the league.
The charge seeking to terminate the NBA's longest tenured owner is the first of several steps in the process by which Sterling could be removed. If the NBA's other 29 owners sustain the charge by a three-fourths vote, the 80-year-old would be stripped of team ownership.
The NBA issued a statement Monday: "Among other things, Mr. Sterling disparaged African-Americans and 'minorities;' directed a female acquaintance not to associate publicly with African-Americans or to bring African-Americans to Clippers games; and criticized African-Americans for not supporting their communities.
"Mr. Sterling’s actions and positions significantly undermine the NBA’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion; damage the NBA’s relationship with its fans; harm NBA owners, players and Clippers team personnel; and impair the NBA’s relationship with marketing and merchandising partners, as well as with government and community leaders. Mr. Sterling engaged in other misconduct as well, including issuing a false and misleading press statement about this matter."
The removal process, including the charge against Sterling, is guided by the NBA Constitution and bylaws.
The charge stems from racist comments made by Sterling during a recorded conversation with a companion, whom he chastises for posting Instagram pictures of herself posing with black people, including Lakers legend Magic Johnson. He also can be heard telling the woman not to bring Johnson to Clippers games.
The recording was posted on TMZ.com late last month, prompting an NBA investigation that determined Sterling made the comments.
"All of these acts provide grounds for termination under several provisions of the NBA Constitution and related agreements," according to the league statement issued Monday.
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Sterling is afforded the opportunity to respond to the charge by May 27. Failure of an owner to respond to the charge is "deemed an admission... of the total validity of the charges as presented," according to the NBA constitution.
Sterling can present his case at a special meeting of the league's Board of Governors, scheduled for June 3. If the Board of Governors votes to remove Sterling, ownership would then be transferred to the league.
Once existing debts are paid, the team would then likely be sold.
The charge marks the first significant move in the termination process since NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Sterling's lifetime ban on April 29. Clippers President Andy Roeser took a leave of absence about a week after the announcement, and the NBA appointed an interim CEO to supervise the team.
Sterling made his first public statements about the recorded conversation and backlash May 11 when he told CNN the remarks were a "terrible mistake." In the CNN interview, Sterling also criticized Johnson for not doing more to help to help black communities.
He has already refused to pay a $2.5 million fine handed down when the ban was announced. A letter from his attorneys to the NBA indicated Sterling, who has owned the Clippers since 1981, will sue if not afforded due process, according to reports.