Shelly Sterling (left) plans to fight to keep her stake in the Clippres. (Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Shelly Sterling, the wife of disgraced Clippers owner Donald Sterling, has declared her plans to fight to keep her stake in the franchise, even as the NBA attempts to force an ownership transfer after her husband was caught on tape making a series of racist remarks.
In an interview with ABC News, Shelly Sterling said that she "eventually" plans to file for divorce and that her intention is to retain her status as a co-owner, calling the team her "passion" and "legacy to my family."
"I will fight that decision," she told ABC News. "To be honest with you, 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?"
"I was shocked by what he said. And -- well, I guess whatever their decision is -- we have to live with it," she said. "But I don't know why I should be punished for what his actions were."
This public declaration follows a series of comments in which Shelly Sterling and her lawyers have suggested that she wants to retain her ownership stake. Shelly Sterling has attended multiple Clippers games in the weeks since her husband's comments came to light, and she has tried to distance herself from his comments.
“I do not condone those statements that you heard,” Shelly Sterling said in a statement last month. “I do not believe in them. I am not a racist. I never have been, I never will be. The team is the most important thing to my family.”
Shelly Sterling also suggested to ABC News that her 80-year-old husband could be dealing with "the onset of dementia."
The NBA issued a statement on Sunday in response to Shelly Sterling's interview.
"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," a league spokesman said. "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."
Within an hour, Shelly Sterling's counsel had issued a response to the league's statement.
"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," the statement read. "We live in a nation of laws. California law and the United States Constitution trump any such interpretation."
In April, TMZ released audio of a conversation in which Sterling can allegedly be heard scolding V. Stiviano, his girlfriend, for bringing African-Americans to Clippers games and for posting photos of herself and African-Americans, including Lakers legend Magic Johnson, to her Instagram account. NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Donald Sterling $2.5 million and banned him from attending NBA games, practices, the Clippers' facilities, and all personnel decisions, and the NBA's 10-member advisory/finance committee voted unanimously to pursue Silver's plan to oust Donald Sterling and complete an ownership change. Silver did not render any punishment against Shelly Sterling.
Since then, longtime Clippers president Andy Roeser was placed on leave, while Dick Parsons, the former chairman of Citigroup and Time Warner, was appointed as the team's new CEO.
Michael McCann reported for SI.com on Saturday that the NBA believes it has the legal standing to remove both Sterlings as owners.
Shelly Sterling's ownership of the Clippers should not be confused with control of the Clippers. This distinction reflects the different layers of NBA ownership. Most NBA owners are not in charge of their teams. They have been approved by the NBA to own some percentage of a franchise, but they do not represent their franchise on the NBA's Board of Governors and are not considered the official voice of their franchises. They are regarded as "non-controlling" owners. There are many perks to being a non-controlling owner, including attendance privileges, inside access to team operations and the ability to tell the world that you own an NBA team. But actual control over the team is not one of those benefits. Shelly Sterling is a non-controlling owner of the Clippers.
If Shelly Sterling wants to become controlling owner of the Clippers, the league would have to approve such a step. The NBA would not approve Shelly Sterling as controlling owner, sources close to the situation tell SI.com. The league would have compelling grounds to deny her attempt, as it would seem to constitute an "end-around" of the NBA ousting her husband. Shelly Sterling has also been implicated in some of the allegations of racism against her husband, particularly those concerning their ownership and management of housing properties in Los Angeles. Consequently, the NBA could refer to those transgressions as legal justifications to deny a transfer of her ownership from non-controlling to controlling.
KABC recently released video of Shelly Sterling posing as a health inspector so that she could gain illegal access to apartments owned by Donald Sterling's companies.
The Los Angeles Times has also reported that Shelly Sterling was accused of using racist language by multiple people during depositions conducted in 2009 as part of a housing discrimination lawsuit.
“I asked her again, I asked her, ‘would you reduce the rent?’” Darrell Rhodes said in the deposition. “And she said, ‘who do you think you are, you black m—f—.’
In another deposition from 2009, former on-site manager Maira Oliva described Rochelle Sterling's visiting the apartment building she worked at on South Ardmore Avenue.
Oliva: “She said, ‘Oh, my God. This is so filthy. I can’t remodel my apartments the way that I want because Latinos are so filthy."
Representatives of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) have said repeatedly
that while they are pleased with the term of the punishment handed down by Silver, they still believe Sterling -- and his family members -- must be replaced by a new ownership group.
“We want maximum allowable punishment under the bylaws and constitution and what that equates to for us as players, there must be a change in ownership,” said Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who is acting as an adviser for the NBPA.
“As players, we’re very happy with the decision, but we’re not content yet,” NBPA vice president Roger Mason Jr. said. “We want immediate action. We want a timetable from the owners on when this vote is going to happen. We feel confident that with Adam Silver’s urging, and we’ve heard from a lot of the owners around the league, we think this is something that can be handled quickly.”
Johnson reiterated this week that the Clippers players expect an entirely new ownership next season.
"Those guys are not going to play for anybody (named) Sterling," Johnson said, according to USA Today Sports. "It's just how it is. It's hard to separate the two. ... It's going to be hard for them to sell that to the fans and definitely to the players."
Clippers coach Doc Rivers has refused to commit to returning next season as he waits for the transition to sort itself out. Although he initially expressed a compassionate approach towards Shelly Sterling, given Stiviano's role in the controversy, he has also indicated that he would her presence would make things "very difficult" next season.
"I don't even want to comment on it because I don't know yet," Rivers said, according to ESPN.com. "I think it would be a very hard situation, I'll say that much. I think it would be very difficult. I guarantee you every person wouldn't be on board with it. Whether I would or not, I'm not going to say, I just know that would be a very difficult situation for everybody."
CNN plans to interview Donald Sterling on Monday, marking his first public comments since his controversial statements came to light last month.
A three-quarters majority vote of the league’s owners — 22 out of the other 29 — is required to force out Donald Sterling. Kings owner Vivek Ranadive said he expects unanimous support for the ouster from his colleagues.