Despite formally authorizing his wife, Shelly Sterling, to negotiate a sale of the Clippers last week, disgraced owner Donald Sterling has now shifted gears to disavow that arrangement, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com. The mouthpiece for this change in process was Sterling's lawyer, Max Blecher, who conveyed that Sterling "is going to fight to the bloody end" in his dispute with the NBA.
From Shelburne's report:
"I don't know what agreement she has with him, but I'm saying to you today, he disavows anything she's doing to sell the team," Blecher said. "He says, 'It's my team, and I'll sell it when and if I get around to it.'"
Asked why Sterling seems to have had a change of heart, Blecher said, "He was in a state of shock at first. Now he's recovering and he's much more feisty."
The agreement in question was formalized in a letter, dated May 22, from Sterling to the league office. In it he reportedly gave power to Shelly Sterling to carry out the sale of the Clippers, seeing as Sterling himself is prohibited from engaging in league business. Shelly Sterling's camp, according to Shelburne, continued to field offers (which were due by Wednesday morning) for the team despite Sterling's apparent change in position.
Sterling also issued his official response to the NBA's charge for termination on Tuesday with a 32-page document stating his case. In it he presents a wide variety of arguments to dispute his termination, ranging from his California-protected right to privacy to the league's arbitrary punishment to the language of the NBA's constitutional article that provides the basis for his dismissal. SI.com's Michael McCann parsed every one of Sterling's contentions, which he stresses are intended for the other 29 owners, who will vote on the matter of his termination on June 3:
Before analyzing the arguments in Sterling's answer, it is important to highlight the intended audience. Sterling is attempting to persuade at least eight fellow owners on the league's Board of Governors to vote against forcing him to sell the Clippers. Unless at least 22 of the 29 other governors vote to make him sell, Sterling will keep the team, but remain subject to a lifetime suspension. Whether the answer sways potential judges and jurors, or triggers reconsideration by players, media and fans is of secondary interest. The wording, expressions and tone in the answer are crafted principally with Sterling's fellow owners in mind. The owners are not strangers to Sterling. He is familiar with their views and attitudes, and the answer likely reflects his impressions.
Sterling's lifetime ban has functionally removed him from the league regardless of what becomes of the vote at the June Board of Governors meeting. McCann notes, however, that by getting the eight votes or more necessary to defeat the vote, Sterling would have a say in selecting the team's next owner. This is why such an extensive document would be drafted with Sterling's fellow owners in mind, no matter how unlikely it might seem for Sterling to get the dissenting votes he needs.
NBA Spokesman Mike Bass responded in receipt of Sterling's response to the charge on Tuesday:
“This evening, the NBA received responses from Donald and Shelly Sterling to the charge to terminate the current ownership interests in the Los Angeles Clippers. The NBA Board of Governors will meet on June 3 at 1 p.m. in New York City to hear and vote upon this matter. Should the Board vote to sustain the charge, the Sterlings’ interests in the Clippers will be terminated and the team will be sold.”
When sold, the Clippers are expected to fetch upwards of $1 billion. Any new owner would not only need to meet the NBA's vetting standards, but also be approved by a 3/4 majority vote among the league's existing owners.
The official termination charge against Sterling was made on the grounds that he had "damaged and continue[s] to damage the NBA and its teams." Specifically, the NBA has taken issue with Sterling for the following reasons:
- Disparaging African-Americans and minorities.
- Directing a female acquaintance not to associate publicly with African-Americans or to bring African-Americans to Clippers games.
- Criticizing African-Americans for not supporting their communities.
The first two items relate to comments made by Sterling to his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, in a private tape that was released by TMZ. The third item relates to comments made during an interview with CNN this month.
The NBA also listed the following impacts of Sterling's comments and behavior:
- Significantly undermining the NBA’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion.
- Damaging the NBA’s relationship with its fans.
- Harming NBA owners, players and Clippers team personnel.
- Impairing the NBA’s relationship with marketing and merchandising partners, as well as with government and community leaders.
Finally, the NBA accused Sterling of engaging in "other misconduct," including releasing a "false and misleading press statement." Upon the release of the TMZ tape, Sterling issued a statement in which he questioned the legitimacy of the audio and refused to confirm that the voice on the tape was his.
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