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Legal Look: Sterling hires investigators to chase NBA

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Eric Macramalla, TSN Legal Analyst
6/13/2014 6:18:03 PM
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It's being reported that embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling (yes he's still the owner) has hired four private investigation firms to dig up "dirt" on the NBA owners, as well as the past Commissioner David Stern and current Commissioner Adam Silver.
 
Sterling has retained investigators as part of his overall litigation strategy. Recently, he filed a lawsuit against the NBA in response to his lifetime ban and his forced sale of the team.
 
Part of that lawsuit alleges breach of contract. He is alleging that the NBA did not follow its own rules when it imposed its very dramatic and unprecedented punishments on him. To support that argument, he wants to be able to point to instances where the league took a much softer approach against other owners who may have committed transgressions of their own. Ultimately, Sterling wants to show that the league's application of the NBA Constitution and its rules has been wholly inconsistent and that he was unfairly and too harshly treated.

The NBA will of course argue that it has not breached its rules and that no other owner has ever said or done anything that has so profoundly and adversely impacted the league, its reputation and goodwill. Remember the NBA will focus on the impact of Sterling's statements and not what he said. In light of this distinction, Sterling will have a difficult time finding an owner who has inflicted similar damage on the league.

Of course, this investigation reminds us that Sterling is looking to embarrass the league. His lawsuit will give Sterling the opportunity to depose Silver, Stern and a number of owners all with a view to getting the league to air its dirty laundry. In part, he may hope that the pressure of litigation and disclosure under oath may encourage the NBA to lift its lifetime ban and let him keep his team.

Will that happen? At the outset, the NBA would have mapped out all possible consequences of forcing Sterling to sell his team, and litigation would have been at the top of that list. The league is prepared to litigate and may sue him right back for interfering with the sale of the team and the business of the league. The NBA is not going anywhere and it will fight.

The NBA also knows that Sterling has serious credibility issues. And that is buying the league time with its fans.

Donald Sterling  (Photo: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images Sport )

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(Photo: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images Sport )
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