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NBA charges Donald Sterling, schedules June 3 vote

By Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 12:13 PM EDT, Tue May 20, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NBA owners seem united since his Anderson Cooper interview, CNN's Rachel Nichols says
  • Sterling, an 80-year-old lawyer and billionaire investor, has said he is not a racist
  • Sports Illustrated reports Sterling wants a three-month delay
  • Shelly Sterling's attorney said she is innocent victim, should keep her half of team

(CNN) -- Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has until May 27 to respond to the National Basketball Association, which on Monday "initiated a charge" seeking to terminate all ownership rights in the franchise, the NBA announced in a written statement.

Sterling, who owns the team with his wife, Shelly, through a family trust, will also be allowed to make a presentation at a special Board of Governors meeting scheduled for June 3.

However, attorney Maxwell Blecher has demanded on behalf of Sterling that the NBA give the longtime owner a three-month extension to prepare his response, Sports Illustrated reported Monday night. The magazine, which like CNN is owned by Time Warner, said the NBA would reject the request.

A receptionist at Blecher's office told CNN she had been advised to give a "no comment" to all media inquiries involving Donald Sterling.

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
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Team owners behaving badly Team owners behaving badly
NBA takes steps to bounce Donald Sterling
Anderson Cooper's inside story
Donald Sterling's apology fallout

The NBA declined to comment on the Sports Illustrated report.

In order to terminate the Sterlings' franchise rights, 75% (23) of the 30 team owners would have to vote to sustain the charge and force a sale. Because Sterling is banned from any NBA activities, he is not allowed to vote, but the Clippers will have a vote, the NBA said.

NBA bylaws say that if Sterling doesn't respond in five business days or appear at a hearing, it will be deemed an admission to the "total validity" of the charge.

If the owner does appear, he may be represented by a lawyer, but the NBA constitution says: "Strict rules of evidence shall not apply, and all relevant and material evidence submitted prior to and at the hearing may be received and considered."

The 80-year-old lawyer and billionaire real estate investor is already fighting a $2.5 million fine and a lifetime ban imposed by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. The longtime owner has argued he has been denied due process.

The NBA included his failure to pay among the reasons for the charge.

The league said it has been damaged by Sterling's racist remarks to V. Stiviano that were posted online in April by TMZ and in an interview with CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360."

"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," the statement said.

In an exclusive interview with CNN's "AC 360" last week, Sterling talked about his relationship with Stiviano and racism in America, and he trashed Magic Johnson and other minorities.

"That's one problem I have. Jews, when they get successful, they will help their people. And some of the African-Americans, maybe I'll get in trouble again, they don't want to help anybody," said Sterling, who is Jewish.

Some owners said privately -- and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said publicly -- after the scandal first unfolded that it would be difficult to vote on removing an owner for a personal conversation. CNN's Rachel Nichols told Cooper his interview has changed some minds, according to NBA insiders she had spoken with in the past week.

"If there were any owners who were concerned about should we be kicking someone out for a private tape, (they) now feel more comfortable," she said. "Because Donald Sterling went on television with you and made statements that were abhorrent to so many people, they feel as if they are on much firmer ground to kick him out."

Sterling's lawyer

Last week, Sterling hired Blecher, an antitrust lawyer who has worked with him in the past, to fight the NBA.

Shelly Sterling has said she wants to keep an ownership stake in the team but doesn't want to be the controlling partner.

Her attorney said she still hopes to resolve the "dispute with the NBA."

"Based on our initial assessment, we continue to believe there is no lawful basis for stripping Shelly Sterling of her 50 percent ownership interest in the Clippers. She is the innocent estranged spouse," Pierce O'Donnell said.

But the NBA said that Donald Sterling's remarks are deemed actions of the entire ownership group.

In his interview with Cooper, Sterling repeatedly denied he is a racist but admitted he made a mistake making the remarks that were recorded.

In the recording, which drew widespread condemnation from fans, players and the league after it appeared on TMZ, Sterling chastises Stiviano for posting pictures online of her posing with African-Americans, including NBA legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson. He tells her not to bring Johnson to Clippers games.

"Admire him, bring him here, feed him, f**k him, but don't put (Magic) on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me," he said.

"In your lousy f**ing Instagrams, you don't have to have yourself with -- walking with black people," he said during a different portion of the recording.

Stiviano, who has largely avoided the media since the scandal began, is scheduled to appear on "Dr. Phil" on Wednesday. She may have more to say about the developing situation at that time.

Sterling, who has owned the team since 1981, said he was baited into saying those remarks.

The Clippers' turbulent season ended late Thursday in a 104-98 loss to Oklahoma City. The Thunder won the series four games to two.

Dick Parsons, a former chairman of Citigroup and Time Warner, was tapped by the NBA to be the team's interim chief executive.

Sterling: I'm not a racist, I'm a giver

Magic Johnson: I'm going to pray for Sterling

CNN's Ed Payne, Jill Martin, Dave Alsup and Stephanie Elam contributed to this report.

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