From the WSJ
On Sunday, President Barack Obama
, Mr. Johnson and all-time great Michael Jordan—the latter a current owner of the Charlotte Bobcats—each called the comments racist. Mr. Johnson said Mr. Sterling "shouldn't own a team anymore."
A handful of other owners and influential names—including LeBron James, the league's top player—also have criticized Mr. Sterling for his purported comments.
Still, it is unclear how the league would go about sanctioning Mr. Sterling if the comments prove to have been made by him.
Mr. Silver on Saturday said there are "broad powers in the NBA's constitutional bylaws that include a range of sanctions" pending the outcome of an investigation into the recording.
Some point to Major League Baseball's handling of former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, who was twice suspended for racially insensitive comments, and former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner
, who was hit with a lifetime ban—lifted after 15 months—for hiring a man to find damaging information on a player. But the most analogous example might be in the NBA.
In the early 1980s, David Stern
, Mr. Silver's predecessor as commissioner and then a league official, helped broker a deal to get then-Cleveland Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien to sell the team. Mr. Stepien, who died in 2007
, had made several questionable personnel moves and had been quoted in 1979 citing the importance of fielding more white players, believing that would boost attendance.
"Requiring the sale of a team would be the most severe sanction," said sports lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, a partner at Winston & Strawn LLP. "But I believe the NBA would take the position that the commissioner has the necessary authority to take action." He said article 35 of the NBA's constitutional bylaws—which aren't public—gives the commissioner those powers.