Clippers owner Donald Sterling has hired four firms to dig up embarrassing information about NBA executives and fellow team owners, according to a person familiar with the latest escalation in Sterling's seven-week battle to maintain control of his team.
Sterling's confidant claims the firms already have uncovered allegations of racial discrimination by NBA officials that are as bad as comments Sterling made suggesting he did not want to see blacks at Clippers games. The Sterling ally, who declined to be named when discussing Donald's legal strategy, said he was not ready to reveal the early findings.
FOR THE RECORD:
Donald Sterling: An article in the June 14 Sports section about Clippers owner Donald Sterling hiring investigators to dig up embarrassing information about NBA executives said Sterling had made comments suggesting he did not want to see blacks at Clippers games. In a recorded conversation released online, Sterling told companion V. Stiviano he did not want her to bring blacks to Clippers games. —
The league has repeatedly suggested it has done nothing wrong and that Sterling is trying to distract from his own failures. Sterling plans to use the investigators' findings to bolster a lawsuit that seeks up to $1 billion in damages, alleging the NBA has treated him more harshly than others affiliated with the league.
He has spread the work out to four firms instead of just one in an attempt to expand and expedite the reach of his inquiry. Each has been told it can bill up to $50,000 to produce results over the next 30 days.
Sterling also hopes the "dirt" will cause embarrassment for the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver, his confidant said. Silver issued a lifetime ban and $2.5-million fine against the Clippers owner in late April after Sterling's remarks about blacks became public.
Silver had asked other NBA owners to strip Sterling of control of the team but backed away from that demand when Shelly Sterling sold the Clippers on May 29 for a record-setting $2 billion to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
"They are trying to apply a standard, but they are not applying it equally to everyone, including themselves," the Sterling ally said. "That is going to create a real legal problem for them. Even if they are a private organization, they can't say that a policy applies to only one member and everyone else is free to do what they want."
People familiar with the NBA's thinking said the league sees Sterling as "flailing" in an attempt to distract attention from his own behavior, which came into question April 25, when a website leaked a recording of his racially charged comments.
"As I've said previously, if Donald chooses to litigate against us, so be it," Silver said this week. "So it's going to take longer than we had hoped for this transaction to close, but it'll get done ultimately. It's just a question of time."
Silver did not comment on Sterling's latest move, which was first reported by the Associated Press.
The NBA said it believes its interests are protected in the sales agreement Shelly Sterling struck with Ballmer, which calls on the Sterling Family Trust that owns the team to indemnify the league against any loses it might suffer in lawsuits by Donald Sterling. Silver said of the indemnification: "So in essence, Donald is suing himself and he knows that."
Sterling and his wife, Shelly, are engaged on another legal front — a fight that could be more definitive in determining who will control the team.
On Wednesday, Shelly asked a Los Angeles probate judge to confirm both her control of the family trust and the May 29 sale to Ballmer.
Donald Sterling's 79-year-old spouse has argued she is the sole trustee of the Sterling Family Trust following mental evaluations in which three experts said her husband no longer had the mental capacity to manage his own affairs.
Donald Sterling, 80, has called the mental diminishment claims absurd and said he will use his wife's July hearing in probate court to show he is still more than capable of managing his real estate empire and the Clippers, the team he has owned since 1981.
Sterling sees his wife of 58 years as tightly aligned with the league to oust him from ownership.
"The decision to go ahead and get the investigators was driven solely by this move in probate court," Sterling's ally said. "There was a feeling that there is no level these guys won't stoop to, to force this sale to occur and that he better wake up and do something. Otherwise it's going to get worse."
Sterling also believes NBA officials have been unhappy with him for years because he has repeatedly questioned the pay and perks given to the commissioner and other league executives. The NBA said its sanctions were a response to the owner's inflammatory comments and no past behavior was taken into consideration.