NEW YORK — Donald Sterling and the NBA are headed toward a hearing that will determine if he remains owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Unless Shelly Sterling finds a buyer for the team first.
The Sterlings were part combative, part cooperative Tuesday, with Donald Sterling fighting to keep his team even as his estranged wife said he had authorized her to sell it.
He didn’t seem willing to give it up – at least not without a fight – in his passionate response to the league’s attempt to oust him.
“We do not believe a court in the United States of America will enforce the draconian penalties imposed on Mr. Sterling in these circumstances, and indeed, we believe that preservation of Mr. Sterling’s constitutional rights requires that these sham proceedings be terminated in Mr. Sterling’s favor,” the response said.
Sterling’s response to the league’s charge that he damaged it and its merchandising partners with his racist comments was delivered before Tuesday’s deadline.
He argued that there is no basis for stripping him of his team because his statements were illegally recorded “during an inflamed lovers’ quarrel in which he was clearly distraught.”
According to the response, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, Sterling says V. Stiviano recorded him without his knowledge and thus the recording was illegal under California law. He also said he could not have “willfully” damaged the league because he did not know it would be made public.
“A jealous rant to a lover never intended to be published cannot offend the NBA rules,” Sterling said in the document, which was first reported by USA Today.
Meanwhile, the attorney for Shelly Sterling confirmed that Donald Sterling had given her written permission to sell the team. According to a person who is in contact with a potential bidder, who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the process publicly, the Clippers are seeking binding bids before next Tuesday – the day NBA owners are scheduled to meet in New York and vote on whether to strip Sterling of the team.
The league said in a statement Tuesday that if three-quarters of the 30 owners voted to sustain the charge, “the Sterlings’ interests in the Clippers will be terminated and the team will be sold.”
Shelly Sterling submitted her own separate response to the NBA’s charges Tuesday that included a “vigorous response to the attempt by the NBA to blame her for doing nothing wrong,” according to a person with knowledge of the proceedings. The individual wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the response.
In his response, Donald Sterling says that next week’s hearing cannot be fair because the owners have already made up their minds, quoting 10 teams who commented on Twitter or elsewhere that they supported the seizure of the team. An AP survey on the day Commissioner Adam Silver announced Sterling’s lifetime ban found that more than half of the teams supported it and no owner was against it.
“These procedings will be a spectacle meant to mollify the popular opinion, not a fair and impartial hearing: the outcome of these procedings became a foregone conclusion weeks ago,” the response states.
The response also notes the disparity between his lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine and previous NBA punishments, including the $100,000 fine levied on Kobe Bryant when he was caught referring to a referee by a homosexual slur, and the 72-game suspension of Ron Artest for punching a fan.
The NBA said Sterling is in violation because his racist comments were harmful to the league and its business partners, including the players. Sterling’s response argues that because his comments came in the privacy of his girlfriend’s living room he cannot be considered “taking a position” that damaged the NBA, as required under the league constitution.
“Mr. Sterling was not `conducting’ the `sport of professional basketball’ when he was arguing with Ms. Stiviano in her living room,” the response says. “Not even the Commissioner alleges that Mr. Sterling intended to harm the NBA with his comment. Nor could he. This was an argument between a jealous man and the woman he loved that should never have left the privacy of his living room.”
Sterling also noted his history of supporting racial diversity, including five black head coaches and a black general manager, Elgin Baylor, who held the job for 22 years. Baylor unsuccessfully sued Sterling, accusing him of racist behavior. It also notes that he was due to receive his second lifetime achievement award from the NAACP before the recording of his comments was leaked.
The response claims that it would cost Sterling $300 million to $500 million in capital gains taxes if he is forced to sell now rather than pass the team to his heirs.
Associated Press writer Tami Abdollah reported from Los Angeles.