In light of the ongoing revelations of racist ugliness coming out of the front office of the Atlanta Hawks (and with a perhaps former member of the Cleveland Cavaliers brass implicated as well), the NBA is extremely fortunate the surprisingly swift resolution of the forced sale of the team from Donald Sterling to Steve Ballmer means that Sterling is not still the owner of record. At Hoop365, I looked at the legal bind the NBA would have faced:
From the standpoint of the NBA as a business, it mostly doesn’t matter what Sterling could prove, or even get admitted in court. Once the conduct of other owners became an issue, Sterling would have wide latitude to conduct what would amount to a fishing expedition through documents, recordings and other communications of other teams and the league as a whole. It’s not especially hard to imagine those materials contain plenty of information the NBA and the remaining member owners would prefer to stay hidden. In any ongoing litigation, Sterling might be able to bring all kinds of buries secrets to light. The degree to which these documents would become “public record” is besides the point. If the last few weeks have shown us anything, hoping such things stay out of the public eye is at best foolhardy.
It’s almost impossible not to speculate as to what kind of salaciousness might be revealed about nefarious business dealings, political entanglements and personal foibles. What was the real story behind the Sonics move to Oklahoma City? What really went down with the veto of the Chris Paul trade to the Lakers? The league establishment surely does not want those details out in the public eye, which would have put the NBA in somewhat of a vice – prolonging the litigation to remove Sterling would allow this discovery process to proceed, while any settlement which allowed Donald to stay in control of the team was untenable commercially.
By eliminating the need to even consider this choice of lesser evils, however, Judge Levanas may have saved the NBA a mountain of embarrassment.
Were it not for the order that allowed the immediate sale of the team, the NBA’s suit to formally oust Sterling would be a priority. There was open talk of boycotts by players if the 2014/15 season started with Sterling still owning the franchise. Doc Rivers might have resigned. One can only guess what sponsors and advertisers would have done both locally in Los Angeles and league-wide.
However, to successfully prosecute the action to remove Sterling, the league would have had to endure this discovery process – any time spent causing delay the discovery process is also time Donald Sterling stayed on as owner. Without Levanas’ intervention, then, would have meant allowing Sterling to dig up all that has been hidden. Not to mention that with each new revelation, the question at the heart of Sterling’s defense, “why me and not them?” almost begins to look reasonable.
Without minimizing the gravity of the developing Atlanta situation, had Sterling still been in charge, it all would have been so much worse for the Clippers, other franchises as a whole.