Los Angeles Clippers co-owner Shelly Sterling said Wednesday that she believes she is legally entitled to maintain ownership of the NBA team and will attempt to do so, even as the pro basketball league pushes to remove her husband from the team he has owned for 33 years.
Sterling described her more than three-decade tenure as a “die-hard” fan of the Clippers and said she believes that the sanctions against Donald Sterling — which included a lifetime ban and $2.5-million fine — do not apply to “me or my family.”
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 onto the team is a wrinkle apparently not contemplated by NBA officials when they moved 12 days ago to strip her estranged husband of ownership.
Players, fans and other owners have signaled they would like to see a fresh start for the Los Angeles franchise, which is in the midst of a playoff run in what could be its most successful season after decades of futility. Ownership by any of the Sterlings could mean a continued flight of sponsors and a potential boycott from players and fans.
The NBA had no immediate comment on Shelly Sterling’s desire to keep the team. On Wednesday, she said in an email to The Times that she has retained a law firm to represent her in her ownership quest.
The league moved against Donald Sterling after the website TMZ released a recording in which Sterling made racially charged comments, telling a frequent courtside companion that he did not want to see her at Clippers games with black people. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver responded with the fine, lifetime ban and a call for the league’s 29 other owners to vote to force Sterling to sell the team.
When Silver announced Donald Sterling’s punishment last week, 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.”