NEW YORK The National Basketball Association charged Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling on Monday with damaging the league with racist comments and set a June 3 hearing after which owners could vote to remove him.
Sterling's comments undermined the NBA's efforts to promote diversity and inclusion; damaged its relationship with fans; harmed NBA owners, players and Clippers personnel, and impaired the league's relationship with marketing and merchandising partners, as well as with government and community leaders, the league said in a statement.
Those acts provide grounds for Sterling's termination under several provisions of the NBA Constitution and related agreements, the NBA said.
Sterling was banned for life by league commissioner Adam Silver last month and threatened with the forced sale after an audio recording surfaced of a conversation in which he berated a female friend for publicly associating with black people.
Sterling, who has owned the Clippers since 1981, has until May 27 to respond and has the right to appear and make a presentation at the special meeting of the NBA Board of Governors.
If the 30-member board sustains the charge by a three-quarters vote, all ownership interests in the Clippers will be terminated and the team will be sold.
Sterling's attorney has told the NBA his client had done nothing wrong and would not pay a league-issued $2.5 million fine. He also threatened to take legal action against the league.
The uproar began after the team owner told a female friend, V. Stiviano, in a conversation that was recorded not to bring blacks to Clippers games.
Sterling specifically mentioned Magic Johnson and then criticized the NBA Hall of Famer again as a poor role model during a subsequent interview with CNN.
Sterling's wife, Shelly, who has co-owned the team with her husband from the start, said in an interview with ABC News that she would fight any attempt to force her to sell.
The NBA responded by saying that, under the league's constitution, the interests of all other owners of a team come to an end when the controlling owner's stake is terminated.
Shelly Sterling's lawyers released a statement on Monday saying they saw no reason why she should be forced to sell.
"We have just received the voluminous charges and are beginning the process of carefully reviewing them," the statement read.
"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. We also continue to hope that we can resolve this dispute with the NBA for the good of all constituencies."
The Clippers were eliminated from the second round of the NBA playoffs last Thursday by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Richard Parsons, a former Time Warner chief executive and chairman, has been installed by the league as the team's chief executive.
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Gene Cherry)