Donald Sterling, the beleaguered owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has made a vow to fight the NBA’s attempts to force him to sell the team. This after his wife, Shelly, had reportedly received his permission to sell the team, including his 50-percent stake, according to a statement by his wife’s attorney, Pierce O’Donnell.
Her statement stands in direct contrast to what Sterling asserted in a 32-page response sent to the NBA on Tuesday. In it, Sterling insisted that he is not interested in selling his team, nor does he think the league should be able to force him. He also noted that he’d received offers of more than $2.5 billion for the Clippers.
USA Today Sports obtained a copy of Sterling’s response, which claims that he didn’t violate any contractual agreements he had with the league. Further, as he did not give V. Stiviano permission to record him, the response states that the recording itself is illegal in California.
Sterling came under fire after the recording of him making racist remarks about African-Americans to Stiviano went public on TMZ. According to the league, his comments violated a morals clause in its joint venture agreement with him. In his statement, Sterling said that this clause “is not meant to oversee morals and ethics in the home; it is meant to govern morals and ethics in conducting the sport of professional basketball.”
He accepted that his words were “hurtful” and “uneducated,” but insisted that he was baited into making them while in a distressed and vulnerable state. The response goes on to say that the league has gone way overboard in punishing Sterling. He has already been banned for life and been fined $2.5 million.
“Judging in terms of the punishment already imposed, and the Commissioner’s current request, Mr. Sterling’s offense is far and away the worst offense that any player, coach or owner has ever committed in the history of the NBA,” his attorney wrote in the response. “In the past, the NBA has either punished offensive speech with a modest fine or ignored it.”
The penalties leveled against him were further called “draconian,” with the response concluding, “We believe that preservation of Mr. Sterling’s constitutional rights requires that these sham proceedings be terminated in Mr. Sterling’s favor.”
Meanwhile, Shelly Sterling was moving in a very different direction on Tuesday. With her claim that she had Donald Sterling’s written permission to sell the team, including his share, she had begun meeting with prospective buyers in advance of the league’s vote next Tuesday to try and strip control of the team from the Sterlings.
According to the L.A. Times, one buyers alliance came together fairly quickly this week when Guggenheim Partners out of Chicago agreed to work with three billionaires who’d previously said they would look into buying the Clippers. Guggenheim, which bought the Los Angeles Dodgers two years ago for $2 billion, has agreed to partner with entertainment magnate David Geffen, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, and Oprah Winfrey.
Another group of partners came together for a possible bid on the team, including former Clipper and NBA all-star Grant Hill, Oaktree Capital Management co-founder Bruce Karsh, and Ares Management co-founder Tony Ressler. Yet another name in the mix is former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer.
Last year, Ballmer was part of a group that bid on the Sacramento Kings, with the idea of moving them to Seattle, but the NBA owners voted that down. This time, he said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he would keep the team where it is.
With a deadline for bids on Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m., any deal would still need to be approved by 75% of the owners. Meanwhile, the NBA plans to continue the process of stripping the Sterlings of their ownership on Tuesday. However, a potential sale in place before that deadline could negate the need for forcibly removing the team from the Sterlings, or grant an extension.
Now, though, with his filed response, it appears that Donald Sterling has not agreed to a sale of his team, and has no intention of letting it go easily. How this could impact potential deals Shelly Sterling has been developing on their behalf remains to be seen.