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Examining the NBA’s Formerly Secret Constitution

Nate Duncan looks at some of the more interesting provisions of the formerly secret NBA constitution, which was just released.

Nate Duncan



The Donald Sterling fiasco has shined an unexpectedly severe spotlight on a document most had never heard of until a few days ago.  The NBA Constitution and By-Laws were secret league documents that suddenly captured the nation’s fascination since they governed the potential punishment of Sterling.  These documents were kept so close to the vest that not even the players’ association appeared to know their full contents, as one of Kevin Johnson’s talking points on Sunday afternoon was a need to understand the full extent of the punishment the league could levy.

But as part of dealing with the Sterling situation and perhaps as part of a new era of transparency under Adam Silver, the league unexpectedly decided to release the entire Constitution and By-Laws on Tuesday.  This was Christmas in April for CBA nerds for all the information it provided completely unrelated to the Sterling situation.  Over the past 24 hours I conducted a quick review of the Constitution, and found a number of interesting provisions.

Want to Own an Expansion Team?

You’d better not have any skeletons in the closet, at least not these days. Under Article 4(a), Applying for “Membership” to own an expansion team essentially means that you have to furnish whatever information the Commissioner of the NBA requires. The relevant language:

…the Commissioner shall have the right to require from the applicant and each Prospective Owner, and the applicant and each Prospective Owner shall furnish to the Commissioner, such information as the Commissioner shall request about the application, the applicant and each Prospective Owner, any persons or Entities with which the applicant or any Prospective Owner is associated or affiliated, and such other matters, whether or not confidential, as the Commissioner shall deem relevant in his sole discretion.

Membership is “[t]he rights, privileges,and benefits granted to a Member by the Association, including, without limitation, the right to organize and operate a professional basketball team to play in the league operated by the Association.” The Commissioner can also direct any Prospective Owner to cause essentially any other party the Commissioner deems necessary to sign “such documents in such forms as the Commissioner shall prescribe.” These include “respective controlled subsidiaries and affiliates,” but presumably could also include the Prospective Owner’s family members or pretty much anyone else the Commissioner deems relevant.

The Commissioner then conducts an investigation of the Prospective Owner that he deems appropriate. After the investigation is concluded, the commissioner submits the application to the Governors of each franchise, and a three fourths vote is required to approve the Prospective Owner under Article 4(d).

Oh, and did we mention you need money to own an NBA team? A mere application to purchase an expansion team has to be “accompanied by a certified check in the amount of $1,000,000,” the “application fee.” This is used to pay for the NBA’s vetting process, with any amount remaining after that going toward the purchase price of the team.

What About Ownership Transfers?

The process is much the same. The Commissioner may make similar demands for information and document execution of any Prospective Owner for a “transfer of membership,” i.e. a sale of the team. That is governed by Article 5, and likewise requires the approval of three fourths of the Board of Governors. The denial of approval by the Board is what ultimately sunk the Maloofs’ attempt to sell to Chris Hansen’s Seattle group.

Then there is the provision that may ultimately sink Sterling: Article 5(c). That paragraph states:

(c) Any agreement to transfer an interest in a Member or Membership, and any application requesting approval of such transfer, shall include a binding agreement of the proposed transferee and each of its Prospective Owners stating that if the transfer is approved by the Association, the proposed transferee and each of its Prospective Owners (and each of their respective controlled subsidiaries and affiliates) shall be bound by the Constitution and By-Laws, rules, regulations, resolutions, and agreements of the Association, and any modifications or amendments thereof.

Much as Sterling may complain about the unfairness of the Constitution, he and all other Owners agreed to be bound by it.

Sterling May Provide One Example on How to Lose a Team. What Are Some Others?

Under Article 13, the Membership of a Member (team) or the interest of any Owner may be terminated by a three fourths vote of the Board of Governors under quite a few circumstances. The most nebulous is if the Owner willfully violates “any of the provisions of the Constitution and By-Laws, resolutions, or agreements of the association,” per Article 13(a).

Another way to potentially lose a team is if the owner tries to sell the team or part of the team without complying with the provisions of the Constitution, which of course includes the three fourths vote. This is why an attempted transfer of ownership by Sterling to, say, a family member is unlikely. One of his best arguments to fight the sale of the team is that he never violated the constitution and that therefore the three fourths vote to remove him should not be allowed to happen, so he will want to make sure he avoids running afoul of it any further.

We also likely won’t see Sterling refuse to pay his fine, as failure to “pay any dues or other indebtedness owing to the Association within thirty days after Written Notice from the Commissioner of default in such payment” is also grounds for franchise termination, per Article 13(d).

Other grounds for termination* include betting on basketball, allowing gambling activity on owned premises, fixing games, disbanding the team, misrepresenting material facts during the ownership application process and failing to “present its Team at the time and place it is scheduled to play in an Exhibition, Regular Season, or Playoff Game.” The last of these might have been another way to oust Sterling if the Clippers’ players had in fact boycotted games. In fact, while a boycott would have been a black eye for the NBA, it might well have made excising Sterling from the league easier.

*Others have covered Article 13(d) in relation to Mr. Sterling, in which a termination vote may occur if the Owner “[f]ail(s) or refuse(s) to fulfill its contractual obligations to the Association, its Members, Players, or any other third party in such a way as to affect the Association or its Members adversely.”

What Happens After Termination?

Others have covered how the termination vote would occur. But what happens after that? “When the Membership of a Member is terminated, such Member and its assets, properties and operations shall be placed under the management and control of the Commissioner…,” who essentially takes the place of ownership, per Article 14A(a). These powers include “any management or voting rights” and the right to sell the team “at such prices and on such terms as the Commissioner shall deem reasonable and appropriate,” per Article 14A(b).

Who Gets the Money from a Sale by the Commissioner?

Mostly Donald Sterling, assuming the Clippers are in good financial health, as they are reported to be. The profits from the sale first go “discharge the liabilities and obligations to all creditors,” and second “any balance shall be remitted to the Member (or Owner).”

The Commissioner’s Powers

The Constitution provides the NBA Commissioner with extremely broad powers. A few of the more interesting:

  • “The Commissioner shall have exclusive, full, complete, and final jurisdiction of any dispute involving two (2) or more Members of the Association,” per Article 24(f). This is why you will never see one NBA team sue another, which of course would be terrible for the league.
  • Commissioner Silver is empowered to “incur any expense which, in his discretion, is necessary to conduct and transact the business of the Association…” However, that is limited to expenses that are similar to those incurred over the past five years. If they go beyond that, Silver needs approval from the Board of Governors, per Article 24 (g).  Presumably, a major expansion of the NBA’s business such as its efforts in China or India would be subject to Board approval under this provision.
  • The commissioner also can withhold any revenues due to a team if he determines that the team failed to discharge its financial obligations to the NBA or any other team. This is another reason that Owners always pay their fines.
  • He can set the date and time of all games consistent with the availability of arenas, the league’s media contracts and “what in the Commissioner’s judgment are the best interests of all Teams involved.”

Distribution of Gate Receipts for Regular Season and Playoff Games

Owners are, of course, required to provide money to help keep the NBA itself running. This amount includes providing capital contributions to the NBA of six percent of all gate receipts from regular season games. Immediately after each regular season game, a team has to send the league a check for payment of the six percent.

For playoff games, that amount increases to 45 percent of gross gate receipts. That amount then contributes to the playoff pool for the players (with an equal share going to the team’s head coach), the travel costs of each team and the referee costs. The remainder is then split equally among the teams. This provision means that the profits for a team making the playoffs are quite a bit less than is commonly believed.

Game Fixing

The penalty for fixing games is extremely harsh. If the Commissioner finds that any person fixed or tried to fix games, he must ban him or her from the NBA for life. In other words, once that finding is made the league constitution requires that individual be banned. The relevant language:

The Commissioner shall direct the dismissal and perpetual disqualification from any further association with the Association or any of its Members, of any person found by the Commissioner after a hearing to have been guilty of offering, agreeing, conspiring, aiding, or attempting to cause any game of basketball to result otherwise than on its merits.

Protesting Games

We have often heard of the idea of “protesting” the outcome of a game. Teams have 48 hours to protest the outcome of a regular season game (or until midnight of the last day of the regular season, whichever is earlier), and until midnight the day of the game to protest a playoff game.* Once a protest is received, the Commissioner immediately notifies the opposing team and each team has five days to present any relevant evidence. The Commissioner then decides the question within a further five days after receiving the evidence.

*Note that the applicable time zone is “the local time then current in the city in which the game was…played.”

Also, protesting cannot be done with complete capriciousness. The protesting team must pay a “Protest Fee” of $10,000, which is refunded if the protest is granted.

This is just a preliminary look at the Constitution, as there is of course much more to the 58-page Constitution and 20-page By-Laws. We will examine these more in the weeks to come.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.


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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics

The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.

Moke Hamilton



Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.

Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.

Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.

As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.

Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.

Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.

“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by

“I’m tired of not playing.”

Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.

As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.

What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.

Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.

Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.

Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.

In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.

Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.

With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.

As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.

Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.

But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.

And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.

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