Donald Sterling will fight “to the bloody end,” his lawyer said, to retain ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers as the NBA continues the process for forcibly removing him as owner.
Sterling believes the punishment he received for making racist comments is “draconian” and contends that the conversation in which the comments were made was private and illegally recorded. Max Blecher, his lawyer, told USA Today on Tuesday night that Sterling will not sell the team, despite a claim by a lawyer for his wife that she has been authorized to seek a buyer for the team, which the couple jointly owns in trust. In punishment handed down April 29, Commissioner Adam Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million, banned him from the team and league for life and urged the other 29 owners to vote to force him to sell. Under the league’s constitution and by-laws, Sterling had until May 27 to respond to charges by the league. The Board of Governors will meet June 3 and it is expected that they will vote then.
“A jealous rant to a lover never intended to be published cannot offend the NBA rules,” Sterling’s 32-page response claims. In it, he also claims he has been offered more than $2.5 billion for the team he bought for $12.5 million in 1981 and says that his family would take an “egregious” tax hit on sale of the team. He also questions how the NBA will hold other owners to the same standard and asserts his right to free speech in expressing an opinion.
Blecher told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that Sterling “is going to fight to the bloody end” and “disavows” the agreement he reached with his wife, Shelly, last week to let her negotiate the sale of the team. “I don’t know what agreement she has with him, but I’m saying to you today, he disavows anything she’s doing to sell the team,” Blecher said. “He says, ‘It’s my team, and I’ll sell it when and if I get around to it.’”
Sterling, Blecher said of the owner’s change of heart, was “in a state of shock at first. Now he’s recovering and he’s much more feisty.”
The NBA said it is moving ahead.
“This evening, the NBA received responses from Donald and Shelly Sterling to the charge to terminate the current ownership interests in the Los Angeles Clippers,” NBA vice president Mike Bass said in a news release Tuesday night. “The NBA Board of Governors will meet on June 3 at 1 p.m. in New York City to hear and vote upon this matter. Should the Board vote to sustain the charge, the Sterlings’ interests in the Clippers will be terminated and the team will be sold.”
Last week, Shelly Sterling claimed that she had been authorized to seek a buyer for the team and has sought to distance herself from her husband’s mess. Shelly Sterling hopes to remain a co-owner with a new partner, but the league will balk at that. “Donald Sterling has authorized Shelly Sterling in writing to negotiate the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers, including his 50 percent ownership of the team. Shelly is managing the sale of the Clippers,” Pierce O’Donnell, her attorney, said. “While no formal offers have yet been received, Shelly and the NBA are working cooperatively on the transaction.”
Donald Sterling’s attorney responded, “Present position is no sale,” to USA Today, and the fight is on.
“I believe what they’ve done is illegal and it will not hold up in court,” Blecher told ESPN. “I believe what they’re doing is a blatant invasion of his constitutional rights because they’re using a tape recording that he did not consent to, and under California law, that recording cannot be used for any purpose, for any proceeding. So if the basis of their case is illegal evidence, they don’t have much of a case. …The whole thing is a pile of garbage.”