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BC Expert: NBA & the Sterlings

Warren Zola

Adjunct Professor of Business Law Warren Zola

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Warren Zola is a nationally known expert in sports law and the business of sports. Among the many media outlets, Professor Zola has appeared in Time Magazine, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, Christian Science Monitor, CNBC, CBS Sports Radio, ESPN Radio, National Public Radio, The Sports Business Journal, Sports Illustrated, Associated Press,, Sporting News Magazine, USA Today, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Financial Times, Sporting News Magazine, The Financial Times, Forbes, and Money Magazine.



With Donald Sterling finally breaking his 16-day silence with an “I’m sorry,” the NBA says if the disgraced owner is ousted by his fellow NBA owners, then his wife Shelly would be ousted too. Her lawyers claimed last night that both federal and California laws would overrule NBA by-laws but Boston College Sports Law expert Warren Zola doesn’t see it that way.

“This is always an issue with private associations and whether or not the courts will become engaged and interfere with the rules of private associations,” says Zola, an Adjunct Professor of Business Law in BC's Carroll School of Management. “Professional leagues have always dealt with this and it falls under the power of the commissioner. The bottom line has always been that so long as the league consistently follows their own internal constitution and by-laws, courts have been reticent to overturn their internal operating procedures and rules.”

Lawyers for Shelly Sterling, who owns 50% of the Los Angeles Clippers, called the NBA’s interpretation of its by-laws “self-serving,” but Zola calls her legal battle an uphill fight.

“The NBA by-laws are written to govern this private association and so action taken by this league does not open up for any other constitutional claims,” says Zola, who has been widely quoted and published in the field of sports law. “At this point, given all the information we have now, it seems highly unlikely that federal courts will overturn this particular action taken by the NBA.”

“Shelly Sterling is a non-controlling owner of the Clippers which means she has access to meetings and information and her voice can certainly be heard but she doesn’t get a vote and she doesn’t have the same standing that Donald does and because he has been stripped of that authority, it doesn’t automatically pass to his wife or some other non-controlling owners,” says Zola. “The other controlling owners get to vote on who gets to own that team and if they have decided that they don’t want Shelly Sterling to become controlling owner, given the existing by- laws, she doesn’t have a legal claim on it.”




Media Note: Contact information for additional Boston College faculty sources on a range of subjects is available at: /offices/pubaf/journalist/experts.html


Sean Hennessey
Associate Director
Office of News and Public Affairs
Boston College

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