The NBA issued a statement Sunday saying that any interests Shelly Sterling may have in the L.A. Clippers would be terminated if the NBA's owners vote to force her husband, Donald Sterling, to sell the team.
"Under the NBA Constitution, if a controlling owner's interest is terminated by a three-fourths vote, all other team owners' interests are automatically terminated as well," NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement. "It doesn't matter whether the owners are related as is the case here. These are the rules to which all NBA owners agreed to as a condition of owning their team."
The NBA recently banned Sterling for life from the league and levied a $2.5-million fine against him for racial remarks he made that were caught on tape.
But Shelly Sterling has maintained that she is legally entitled to maintain ownership of the Clippers. Her attorney, Pierce O'Donnell, issued the following statement Sunday in response to the NBA.
"We do not agree with the league's self-serving interpretation of its constitution, its application to Shelly Sterling or its validity under these unique circumstances," he said. "We live in a nation of laws. California law and the United States Constitution trump any such interpretation."
Shelly Sterling recently described her long tenure as a "die-hard" fan of the team and said she believes that the sanctions against her husband do not apply to "me or my family."
When NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Donald Sterling's punishment, he said there had been "no decisions about other members of the Sterling family," adding: "This ruling applies specifically to Donald Sterling and Donald Sterling's conduct only."
But Silver also said that when it comes to a vote on future ownership, fellow NBA board members would consider Sterling's "overall fitness to be an owner in the NBA," which would "take into account a lifetime of behavior."
The team is held in a family trust, and sources familiar with the Clippers say they believe that Shelly Sterling has equal ownership with her husband and each takes control if the other dies. Sterling paid $12.5 million for the team in 1981, but experts have said recently the team could be sold for $1 billion or more.
In an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters that aired Sunday, Shelly Sterling said she may eventually divorce Donald Sterling and will fight efforts to force her to sell her share of the L.A. Clippers.
She also suggested Donald Sterling is suffering from dementia, which she said could explain a recording in which he reportedly tells a female friend not to associate with black people.
"I was shocked by what he said," Shelly Sterling told Walters. "But I don't know why I should be punished for what his actions were."
The NBA responded to the recordings by banning Donald Sterling for life and saying it would seek to force him to sell the team. But Shelly Sterling said she sees the Clippers as part of her family legacy.
"I'm wondering if a wife of one of the owners, and there's 30 owners, did something like that, said those racial slurs, would they oust the husband? Or would they leave the husband in?" she said.
Shelly Sterling also suggested that her husband might want to transfer full ownership of the team to her. As for their future as a couple, she said she had considered divorcing him for years but has not made any final decisions.
Also Sunday, Donald Sterling sat down for an interview with Anderson Cooper, which is set to air on CNN Monday. In transcripts released by CNN, Sterling apologized for his remarks about African Americans, asked for forgiveness and said he would like to hold onto the team.
The interviews with the Sterlings come more than a week after Walters talked with the woman at the center of the scandal, V. Stiviano.
Stiviano said Sterling feels alone and isolated after being banned from the NBA over recorded comments in which he tells her not to associate with black people.
When Walters asked Stiviano if Sterling was a racist, she replied: "No, I don't believe it in my heart."
Stiviano noted that Sterling, 50 years her senior, is of a different generation. She said she didn't take his comments about blacks as bigoted.