Shelly Sterling accuses NBA of sexism in Clippers ownership fight

Shelly Sterling, center, publicly addressed her husband's controversial comments on the "Today" show Tuesday.
(Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

Shelly Sterling defended her right to hold onto her stake in the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, telling NBC’s Savannah Guthrie it’s sexist for the NBA to punish her for the actions of her husband, who she claimed suffers from dementia.

The Clippers have been operating under a cloud in the weeks since the celebrity website TMZ released an audio recording in which Donald Sterling, 80, told frequent court-side guest V. Stiviano that he did not want to see her at games with black people. Days later, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million, banned him for life from the league and began a drive to get at least three-fourths of team owners to separate the Clippers boss from the franchise.

Shelly Sterling, however, has made it clear she wants to keep her 50% stake in the team, and told Guthrie in an interview that aired Tuesday on the “Today” show that it was sexist of the league to also force her to sell.

“Would an owner’s wife [who] would say the same thing … would the owner be asked to leave the NBA?” Sterling said. “Or would they say, ‘Well, she’s only the wife.’”


Also in the “Today” interview that aired Tuesday, Shelly Sterling said she suggested her husband’s inflammatory comments were signs that he was suffering from dementia.

“I felt bad for him, he’s not the man that I know,” she said as her attorney sat beside her. “I think it’s been happening but no one really knew the reason. He gets crazy and yells and screams and hollers one moment, next moment he’ll talk about something else. It’s like nothing makes sense.”

Her comments came a day after her husband’s CNN interview reignited a firestorm of criticism over broadsides against Lakers great Magic Johnson. In the wide-ranging interview, Donald Sterling also suggested that African Americans have not done enough to help their community and blamed the media for creating the turmoil that envelops his team and his family.

“Why would he bring Magic Johnson into the issue about what’s happening now?” she said. “That’s where I felt pity because he couldn’t get all the dots together. He couldn’t connect the dots.”

She made similar suggestions regarding the onset of dementia in her interview with Barbara Walters that aired Monday.

And even though Shelly Sterling said she agreed with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver‘s punishment, she said she would go “as far as I can go” to fight for her stake.

NBA officials have said it would be at least two more weeks, following the issuance of formal allegations against Donald Sterling, before fellow owners would be in a position to judge whether their longest-tenured partner should be allowed to stay in place.

“Why am I the victim when he’s the perpetrator?” Sterling said of her embattled husband, Donald. “If somebody kills somebody, does the wife have to stand trial too?”

Mike Bass, executive vice president for communications of the NBA, said: “Under the NBA Constitution, if a controlling owner’s interest is terminated by a 3/4 vote, all other team owners’ interests are automatically terminated as well. 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.”