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NBA vs. Clippers owner Sterling: Who wants to buy out a billionaire?

By Matt Smith, CNN
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Wed April 30, 2014

(CNN) -- After slapping Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling with a lifetime ban from pro basketball for racist remarks that were leaked online, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he would do "everything in my power" to force Sterling to sell the franchise. Here's a primer on what may happen next.

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What's the process?

Three-quarters of the owners of the 30 NBA teams would have to agree to force an owner to sell, Silver said. He did not lay out a detailed timetable for action but said the league would start using its advisory finance committee to bring the issue before the owners "immediately."

Do they have the votes?

As of Tuesday evening, more than 20 of the NBA's 30 teams had issued statements of support for Silver, but whether that would translate into a vote to push out a fellow owner wasn't certain. Silver said he hadn't polled the owners but added, "I fully expect to get the support I need."

Wait a minute, can they do that?

They can. But Gabe Feldman, the director of the Sports Law Center at Tulane University, said the drastic move usually involves "extreme" circumstances, such as an owner's financial collapse "or maybe gambling or fixing games." He questioned whether owners would vote to remove one of their own "based on something they don't like," possibly creating a precedent that might be used against them one day.

The owners may agree that Sterling's comments were awful, Feldman told CNN. "The question is, do racially insensitive and abhorrent remarks made privately rise to the circumstances necessary for this vote to happen?"

Is there some other way?

Feldman said the other NBA owners might be able to persuade Sterling to sell without a vote, noting that the Clippers owner stands to make a whopping profit on a team he purchased three decades ago.

"He may get a lot of money from the sale, but I think it will allow the NBA to shift their force back onto the product on the court," Feldman said.

Does Sterling have any recourse if owners vote him out?

Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson announced he will sell the team in light of an offensive email he sent. Levenson is not the first sports team owner to face the consequences of his actions: Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson announced he will sell the team in light of an offensive email he sent. Levenson is not the first sports team owner to face the consequences of his actions:
Team owners behaving badly
Team owners behaving badly Team owners behaving badly

He could go to court, and Feldman predicted the issue would end up there. But CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin said the odds of Sterling winning a case "seem basically zero."

"This is not the government enforcing a penalty. This is not something where you have the Constitution involved. This is simply a contract," Toobin said. "There is a contract between all the owners and the NBA, and the powers of the commissioner and the power of the other owners are laid out there."

Could he somehow keep a hand on the team?

The ban imposed Tuesday prevents Sterling from playing any role in the management of the Clippers. He can't go to games, to practices, to team offices or facilities or to any NBA functions. But asked whether his wife, Rochelle, or other members of his family could remain, Silver said no decisions had been made.

"This ruling applies specifically to Donald Sterling, and Donald Sterling's conduct only," he said.

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