Three days after the broadcast of an interview in which he claimed to have made a "terrible mistake" by making racist comments in audio recordings published online, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is now claiming that he has done nothing wrong.
Well, not Sterling himself — rather, the attorney he just hired to threaten to sue the NBA, fight the lifetime ban levied against Sterling by Commissioner Adam Silver, and tell the league that the 80-year-old Sterling will not be paying the fine he received in conjunction with the ban. From Michael McCann of Sports Illustrated:
SI.com has learned that Donald Sterling has hired prominent antitrust litigator Maxwell Blecher, who has written a letter to NBA executive vice president and general counsel Rick Buchanan threatening to sue the NBA. The letter, sources tells SI.com, claims that Sterling has done nothing wrong and that "no punishment is warranted" for Sterling. Blecher also tells Buchanan that Sterling will not pay the $2.5 million fine, which is already past due. Blecher ends the letter by saying this controversy "will be adjudicated."
Blecher's letter makes clear what many have anticipated: Donald Sterling will not go down without a fight and that he is taking active steps towards litigation. A letter of this type is considered a precursor to the filing of a lawsuit. Blecher's letter offers no ambiguity about Sterling's intentions.
"We reject your demand for payment," the letter tells Buchanan, who on May 14 informed Sterling by letter that he must pay the $2.5 million fine.
The SI report, backed up by USA TODAY Sports and ESPN.com, indicates that Blecher — a decorated veteran antitrust lawyer who was part of a team that defeated the NFL in a 1981 case that allowed the Oakland Raiders to move to Los Angeles — plans to argue that Sterling has not violated any aspect of the NBA's constitution. Multiple legal experts disagree, pointing toward Article 13(d) of the constitution, which provides for the termination of an owner's franchise should ownership fail to "fulfill its contractual obligations to the Association, its Members, Players, or any other third party in such a way as to affect the Association or its Members adversely." Which interpretation bears out in a court of law remains to be seen.
The NBA Board of Governors' Advisory/Finance Committee continues to work toward ousting both Sterling and his estranged wife, Rochelle "Shelly" Sterling, from the ranks of ownership. The Advisory/Finance Committee held a conference call on Tuesday to discuss the recent media appearances by the Sterlings. The committee also "reviewed the status of the charge for termination of the Clippers’ ownership." They'll meet again next week.
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