Sterling Responds: 'Sham' NBA Proceedings 'Illegal,' May Suppress Free Speech

Sterling Responds: 'Sham' NBA Proceedings 'Illegal,' May Suppress Free Speech

On Tuesday, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling said it was “illegal” for the NBA to force him to sell his team for, among other things, telling V. Stiviano to not bring “black people” to his games.

In the 32-page response to the NBA’s chargers that USA Today Sports obtained, Sterling also alleges that using Stiviano’s recording in proceedings violates his California constitutional rights and said forcing the sale of his team would also suppress free speech in the league. 

He also reportedly claims that he received an offer in the ballpark of $2.5 billion for his team, which would make his once moribund team the most lucrative sports franchise in the world. Sterling has authorized his wife to sell the team, and other reports have said that the franchise is expected to be sold for around a billion dollars, nowhere near the figure Sterling cited.

But in the response, Sterling insists that he will prevail in court and the NBA’s “sham proceedings” will be dismissed.

“We do not believe a court in the United States of America will enforce the draconian penalties imposed on Mr. Sterling in these circumstances, and indeed, we believe that preservation of Mr. Sterling’s constitutional rights requires that these sham proceedings be terminated in Mr. Sterling’s favor,” the response states.

Sterling says that his “uneducated” remarks were made in a living room during a “lovers’ quarrel” and were “were illegally recorded and then disclosed months later in retaliation for a lawsuit” by his wife.

The response also states that, based on “terms of the punishment already imposed, and the Commissioner’s current request,” Sterling’s “offense is far and away the worst offense that any player, coach, or owner has ever committed in the history of the NBA.” 

“In the past, the NBA has either punished offensive speech with a modest fine or ignored it,” the response says. “While Mr. Sterling’s opinions may be unpopular and false, they remain opinions.” The response also contends that even if Sterling “violated the NBA constitution, the Commissioner’s request to terminate Mr. Sterling as an owner, coupled with the punishment he already imposed, would result in unfairly disparate treatment, which would render the exclusion unlawful because of such an arbitrary punishment.”

He also notes that Kobe Bryant has made derogatory comments toward gays and was fined $100,000 while Shaquille O’Neal was not fined for disparaging remarks against Asians while he was a player and for mocking a disabled person on Twitter as a co-owner of the Sacramento Kings. The response also states that should owners terminate his ownership because he criticized Magic Johnson on CNN, it would chill free speech.

“While Mr. Sterling’s opinion of Magic Johnson may also be unpopular, is the NBA willing to set a standard that an individual can be punished for voicing a negativeopinion of a popular player?” the response asks. “If so, such a standard will make short shrift of many players and coaches. It will also needlessly suppress free speech. The Commissioner does not allege and cannot allege that these facts could independently sustain the charge to terminate Mr. Sterling’s ownership interest.”

Sterling also notes that he has employed five African American coaches, “scores” of African American, and an African American general manager. He cites his NAACP honors, one of which was revoked after his remarks, and mentions that he terminated a white coach (Vinny Del Negro) to hire a black coach (Doc Rivers). 

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life after the recording surfaced and Sterling had until Tuesday to respond to the initial charges. The NBA has scheduled a meeting on June 3 to resolve the matter in which 3/4 of the league’s owners could force Sterling to sell his team. 

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had previously said that forcing Sterling to sell the Clippers may lead to a “slippery slope,” but indicated last week that he may have to be a “hypocrite” in casting his vote. Cuban, during the same interview, said he likes to give people in his organization a second chance if they are caught making bigoted or racist comments. 

NBA players have threatened to boycott games next season if Sterling is still associated with the team and many believe Sterling should have been expelled from the league last decade for his allegedly discriminatory actions against his black and Hispanic tenants.

“The NBA’s use of this illegal recording constitutes a clear and blatant violation of Mr. Sterling’s California constitutional rights,” his response says. “The authors of the charge did not have the courage, decency, or honesty to acknowledge the circumstances surrounding Mr. Sterling’s jealous rant or even that the source of their information was borne from the “fruit of the poisonous tree.”