Shelly Sterling hints at NBA sexism as she fights to keep Clippers


Shelly Sterling (center) at the May 9 playoff game at Staples Center. (Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty Images)

In her fight to retain her ownership stake in the Los Angeles Clippers, Shelly Sterling hinted that the NBA is being sexist in an interview Tuesday morning on the “Today” show and said she was baffled by her husband’s attack on Magic Johnson on Monday night.

Shelly Sterling’s husband, Donald, is under fire for racist comments he made 2 1/2 weeks ago. Because of those comments, Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling from contact with the team and NBA, fined him $2.5 million and urged the league’s other owners to vote to force Sterling to sell the team he has owned since 1981. Sterling is drawing fresh criticism for a CNN interview with Anderson Cooper in which he apologized, said he is not a racist — and ripped the Lakers legend. He questioned Johnson’s philanthropy in the black community and said he “should be ashamed” for being HIV positive. He also repeatedly and erroneously said that Johnson has AIDS in a comments that prompted an apology to Johnson from Silver.

Shelly Sterling, who has retained counsel in her quest to remain a silent partner with a new co-owner if the team is sold, watched the interview with Savannah Guthrie. Sterling reiterated that she has contemplated divorce but has not started proceedings because her lawyer and financial consultant advised against it. As she did in an interview with Barbara Walters over the weekend, Sterling said fans are encouraging her to fight to keep the team, telling her, she says, “Go, girl.” Sterling told Guthrie that “I’ve done nothing wrong” and distances herself from her husband.

“I’m very angry and I’m very hurt. I even cried listening to that [Cooper interview] because I just feel bad,” she said. “And then I feel bad. Why am I the victim when he’s the perpetrator? If somebody kills somebody, does the wife have to stand trial, too?”

Sterling, who has not been banned and has been attending Clippers games, said she’s never heard her husband say racist things and adds that fans are encouraging her to fight to the end. It is unlikely that the NBA would keep her on with a new ownership group, which Sterling sees as sexism.

“I really think so,” Sterling said. “Would an owner’s wife say the same thing and would the owner be asked to leave the NBA or would they just say, ‘Well, she’s only the wife?’”

Players threatened to boycott NBA playoff games and the Clippers protested in their first playoff game after Donald Sterling’s comments came to light. LeBron James of the Miami Heat said that NBA players want all Sterlings out as owners, Sterling said she’s seen none of that when she goes to games. “I went to the game about two days ago. I was sitting up in the box and all the fans below me were high fiving me and saying, ‘Go, girl’ and ‘Don’t give up’. I talked to some of the players. They hugged me.”

Sterling, who said she wept as she watched her husband talk with Cooper, said she was baffled when her husband brought up Johnson. “Why would he bring Magic Johnson into the issue about what’s happening now?” she said. “That’s where I felt pity because he couldn’t get all the dots together. He couldn’t connect the dots.”

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She also reiterated that she thinks her 80-year-old husband has dementia.

“I feel bad for him. Because he’s not the man that I know, or I knew. There’s something wrong,” she said. “I really think personally he has dementia. … I don’t think it happened over night. I think it’s been happening but nobody really knew the reason. He gets crazy and yells and screams and hollers one moment and the next moment he’ll talk about something else. It’s like nothing makes sense.”

Dementia, Guthrie pointed out, doesn’t necessarily make people say racist things. “I really don’t know much about dementia,” Sterling replied. “I wish I did.”

Morning Mix: Highlights from Donald Sterling’s interview

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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