"Additional details will be announced," into the investigation of Sterling’s alleged racist comments, is all the league would say on Monday. The NBA has been attempting to verify that the voice on the recording — published on TMZ and Deadspin.com — is actually Sterling.
But what can the NBA do if it is Sterling on the tape? Because NBA bylaws aren’t public, nobody knows exactly what sanctions league commissioner Adam Silver can deliver. But everyone from LeBron James to Michael Jordan to U.S. President Barack Obama have called for a stiff penalty.
"You gotta’ remove someone like that from your league," said Paul Riley, who serves as commissioner of the National Basketball League of Canada, a professional league that’s far from the prestige of the NBA, but similar in terms of governance.
“Our bylaws are private too, but any type of overt racism like this would have to be dealt with harshly.”
Riley said it’s likely the NBA will give Sterling — who has denied he’s racist — a lengthy suspension, possibly as long as two years.
"He wanted to keep black people away from the games, now the commissioner could keep him away from the game," Riley said.
"It’s beautifully ironic."
Clippers players, including superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, have already asked Sterling to avoid the team’s games for the rest of the 2014 playoffs.
Sterling could pocket $700M from Clippers sale
Megan Greenwell, a senior editor at ESPN The Magazine, told CBC Radio’s Q the NBA will be evaluating all of its options when it comes to getting rid of Sterling.
"I think that Adam Silver will be looking for any possible way to make Donald Sterling no longer the owner of the Clippers," Greenwell said.
For legal reasons, however, Greenwell and numerous other sports business experts have suggested that may not be possible.
Stephen Brunt, a columnist for Sportsnet Magazine, said there has been reason to sanction Sterling before, citing a 2006 lawsuit brought against Sterling by the U.S. Department of Justice in which the California property mogul was sued for avoiding renting apartments to black and Latino people (the case was settled outside of court.)
Brunt pointed out Silver is in a bind because as commissioner he works for the owners, including Sterling. While other NBA owners like Jordan, who now owns the Charlotte Bobcats, have condemned Sterling, it’s not clear they would vote to set a precedent by pushing him out.
Still, the time may be right for Sterling, 80, to go, and if he does, he'd leave with quite a tidy profit, according to Sportsbusinessnews.com’s Howard Bloom.
He estimates the Clippers, which he bought for around $12 million in 1981, are worth around $700 million US.
"Assuming he can get fair market value … it’s time for Donald Sterling to sell the team," Bloom said.
As for Tuesday’s punishment, Bloom thinks Sterling will be suspended indefinitely and fined $500,000.
A fine, plus time
If Sterling holds on to the team, he’s running a risk, said the Toronto Star’s Morgan Campbell, who runs the newspaper's series Sportsonomics. If the sponsors — who have been distancing themselves from the Clippers organization since news of the recordings broke — fans and TV ratings don’t come back following Sterling’s toxic comments, the franchise would plummet in value.
Campbell said the NBA, a league where 70 per cent of the athletes are black, has done "absolutely nothing" about Sterling’s alleged racism in the past, but it can’t overlook it this time.
"This type of talk is off-limits no matter if three-quarters of your employees are African American or none of them are African American," Campbell told the CBC's Power & Politics.
On the recording, Sterling speaks, "the way a slave master looks at his slave, not the way an employer looks at his employee," he said.
Sterling crisis a distraction for Clippers
Arnie Fielkow, president and CEO of the National Basketball Retired Players Association, was at the NBA’s New York office for meetings today. He told CBC News the league has been investigating and hinted there could be economic pressures applied to the Clippers.
"I’m sure that the right thing is going to be done by the NBA," Fielkow said.
As for the Clippers team, which plays game five against the Golden State Warriors Tuesday night, Fielkow said the Sterling crisis has been a major distraction.
"You have to separate the basketball from the non-basketball," he said.
"These are things that should simply not happen."