NBA Commissioner Adam Silver may have urged owners to force Donald Sterling to sell the Los Angeles Clippers as part of his punishment for racist comments that came to light recently, but Sterling’s wife isn’t going without a fight.
Shelly Sterling, a co-owner of the team, will attempt to maintain ownership of the team her husband purchased 33 years ago and has hired a law firm to help her, the Los Angeles Times reports. Shelly Sterling’s representatives told the Times that she believes the punishment given Sterling — a $2.5 million fine and lifetime ban from the league and team — does not apply to “me or my family.” That complicates just how the league will handle the Sterling Problem and substantiates the belief of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti that the Sterlings will not go quietly. From the Times:
Shelly Sterling’s position presents a “wild card” for the pro basketball league as it faces its biggest crisis in memory, said a league official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. Her intention to hold on to the team is a wrinkle apparently not contemplated by NBA officials when they moved nine days ago to strip her estranged husband of ownership.
Perhaps they should have anticipated it. Sterling distanced herself from her husband’s comments almost immediately, saying she was not a racist, and has continued to attend the Clippers’ playoff games since the story broke April 26. The Times reports that the team, purchased by Sterling for $12.5 million in 1981, is held in a family trust. Sources told the paper that they believe she and her husband share ownership equally and that the trust stipulates that one would would take control if the other dies.
In announcing Sterling’s punishment, Silver left open the question of where the rest of the family stands. “This ruling applies specifically to Donald Sterling and Donald Sterling’s conduct only.” In urging the league’s other owners to push him to sell, he said he hoped they would consider Sterling’s “lifetime of behavior.” That includes several lawsuits involving harassment and housing discrimination. Shelly Sterling’s name has come up in reports about housing discrimination, but her attorney denied that she ever made racially charged statements to tenants and that allegations of those comments had never been substantiated.
Meanwhile, Shelly Sterling has continued to be a cheerleader, increasing her visibility after decades of remaining in the background. That isn’t a pleasant prospect for players, Coach Doc Rivers and the team’s other employees, all of whom were up in arms over Donald Sterling’s comments. The NBA, according to the Times, “has sent signals that it is uncomfortable with Shelly Sterling’s continued presence in the organization. The league let her know that it would prefer that she not attend playoff games Friday and Sunday at Staples Center against the Oklahoma City Thunder, said the NBA source. But league officials privately acknowledge that they do not know how they can prevent her from attending.”