"My sense is that it's not a done deal," said the confidant, who declined to be named because of sensitive discussions with the NBA. "The issue is whether she gets to keep an interest" in the franchise.
First reported by TMZ.com and confirmed by The Times, Sterling's hope to turn over controlling interest in the team to his wife to facilitate a sale could end the monthlong furor that followed his racially charged remarks about African Americans.
Friday's development didn't appear to sway the NBA.
"We continue to follow the process set forth in the NBA constitution regarding termination of the current ownership interests in the Los Angeles Clippers and are proceeding toward a hearing on the this matter on June 3," NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement.
NBA owners are set to hear evidence at the hearing in New York on whether the Sterlings should keep the team they jointly own through the Sterling Family Trust. Three-fourths of the owners must approve the ouster.
Shelly Sterling's retention of any stake in the Clippers would not achieve the NBA's goal of ejecting both Sterlings from the league, a point repeatedly stated in internal NBA documents making the case to terminate their ownership. In the league's charges against Sterling, an NBA investigator asserted that the Sterlings weren't estranged, as has been claimed.
All indications had been that the Sterlings would fight to retain the team they've owned for 33 years. But this isn't the first time Sterling has introduced the potential sale of the Clippers during a conflict with the NBA.
In 1982, a special committee of league owners voted to terminate Sterling's ownership in the wake of his recorded comments about losing games in order to secure the No. 1 draft pick along with a variety of financial issues.
"He's as good as gone," one NBA insider told The Times then.
But eight days later, Sterling announced through then-general manager Ted Podleski that the Clippers were for sale.
"Don told me he's willing to take a reasonable offer," Podleski said at the time. "He recognizes it's time to get on with other things .… He will be fair and honorable, but people better not think he'll give the team away."