Sterling's wife reviews bids to buy Clippers
Shelly Sterling is reviewing bids from five groups interested in buying the Los Angeles Clippers, a person with knowledge of the negotiations says.
The individual, who wasn't authorised to speak publicly about the deal, said if an agreement to sell was reached before next Wednesday (NZT), the NBA's owners wouldn't meet in New York to vote on terminating Donald Sterling's ownership.
The individual wouldn't specify who the interested buyers were, but described them as major players with considerable financial means. The person said the sale price ''appears to be increasing to an unbelievable number,'' and that it could soar past NZ$1.76b to NZ$2.36b, and possibly more.
Another person familiar with the negotiations said Shelly Sterling's attorneys, bankers and others involved in the process were in a locked room reviewing the bids, which were due on Thursday. The individual wasn't authorised to publicly discuss the sensitive and competitive negotiations.
Donald Sterling's attorney, Bobby Samini, said there would be no sale of the team without his client's involvement, though he declined to say whether Sterling was involved in reviewing bids or was in touch with Shelly Sterling.
''Mr Sterling is an owner of the team, and there will be no sale of the team without his involvement,'' Samini said.
But a May 22 letter written by another one of Sterling's attorneys said that ''Donald T. Sterling authorizes Rochelle Sterling to negotiate with the National Basketball Association regarding all issues in connection with a sale of the Los Angeles Clippers team.''
It includes the line ''read and approved'' and Donald Sterling's signature.
NBA spokesman Mike Bass said the league's advisory/finance committee met Wednesday by phone to discuss the separate responses from Donald and Shelly Sterling to the NBA on its efforts to terminate the Sterlings' ownership of the Clippers.
The first individual said that the league's owners knew a sale couldn't be completed by next Wednesday. But if an agreement was in place, the NBA would give the Sterlings extra time before holding any meetings.
The individual said the league hopes a voluntary sale would remove the potential of legal action being taken by the Sterlings. The person said that at this point, with Donald Sterling saying he planned to fight the matter in court, the NBA intended to go forward with the meeting in New York on June 3.
A forced sale would require approval by three-fourths of the league's 30 owners. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said he was confident he would get the necessary votes.
On Tuesday, Donald Sterling issued a fiery response to the NBA's attempt to oust him.
The league charged that he had damaged it and its merchandising partners with his racist comments about blacks in a recording released last month. He argued that there was 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, Sterling said girlfriend V Stiviano recorded him without his knowledge, which 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.
''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 favour,'' the response said.
Donald Sterling was banned for life and fined NZ$2.9m by Silver after the recording was made public.
It is possible Shelly Sterling could complete an expedited sale of the team despite her husband's legal wranglings, according to Daniel Lazaroff, director of the Sports Law Institute at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
''She would have to be willing to go through with a sale that gave her absolutely no retained ownership interest in order to satisfy the league,'' said Lazaroff, a law professor at the school.
''If she did that, I don't think the league would stand in her way. If she wants to retain any portion of ownership it wouldn't work.''
Even if Shelly Sterling accepted an offer, the league has the right to approve potential owners, a lengthy process that would almost certainly not be completed by next Wednesday.
''The best case scenario is she finds a suitable buyer,'' Lazaroff said.
''That would work for the league and from a financial standpoint that would work for the Sterlings. If the sale price is satisfactory, the smart thing might be to just get out. He's a businessman who understands buy low and sell high.''
Donald Sterling purchased the Clippers for NZ$14.17m in 1981, making him the league's longest-tenured owner. He argued in his response to the league's charges that he can't get a fair hearing next week because the other owners have already made up their minds to oust him.
Lazaroff noted that Sterling signed the NBA's constitution when he joined the league, and its bylaws spell out specific procedures for terminating ownership. He said as long as the league follows its own rules it should be on solid legal ground.
''I could see a happy ending to this,'' he said, ''but it will depend on both of the Sterlings being out of the picture.''