Donald Sterling’s estranged wife, who co-owns the Los Angeles Clippers with him, said over the weekend that she supports appointing a new CEO for the Clippers, but has yet to signal if she is willing to sell the team.
Rochelle Sterling is a wild card in the National Basketball Association's bid to boot Mr. Sterling from the table of 30 league owners and quell a maelstrom over racist remarks the real estate mogul was heard making in an audio clip released last month.
Mrs. Sterling, who has co-owned the Clippers for more than three decades, said in a statement on Saturday that she plans to actively assist the NBA in appointing a new Clippers CEO to provide “some fresh, accomplished executive leadership” for the team. She also said that she supports the NBA’s decision to impose a lifetime ban and $2.5 million in penalties on her husband.
“I welcome his [NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s] active involvement in the search for a person of the utmost character, proven excellence, and a commitment to promoting equality and inclusiveness,” said Mrs. Sterling, who attended the Clippers game against Golden State on Saturday evening, sitting in a suite.
“As a co-owner, I am fully committed to taking the necessary steps to make the Clippers the best team in the NBA,” she said.
Mrs. Sterling’s statement came the same day that the NBA said that it was close to naming a new CEO, in hopes of moving beyond a national scandal that has slashed the ranks of sponsors and fans. The Clippers’ current president, Andy Roeser, is considered by the league to be too close to Sterling to continue to lead the team after he publicly questioned the motives of the woman who released the audio clip at the center of the controversy.
Mr. Roeser is expected to be kept on for the moment, but the new CEO would supersede him and have the power to fire him, according to ESPN.
Still, Mrs. Sterling, who told ESPN last month that she does not share Mr. Sterling’s views, though she has been accused in the past of holding racist beliefs, stopped short of saying if she supported selling the team, and a possible shakeup in the team’s ownership remained as ambiguous as ever.
On April 9, the TMZ website posted an audio clip of Sterling telling a woman rumored to be his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, that he was upset with her for taking a photograph with NBA star Magic Johnson and for associating publicly with black people. For those comments, Mr. Silver banned Sterling for life from all team games and business and fined him the maximum possible amount of $2.5 million.
Silver also said that he planned to force Sterling to sell the team he has owned since 1981, prompting a glut of possible owners, including Oprah Winfrey and Magic Johnson, to express their interest in owning what had until recently been considered a second-rate team, especially next to the Los Angeles Lakers.
But booting Sterling has proved easier said than done.
Silver has said he expects at least 23 of the 30 league owners – the required three-quarter percentage – will vote to oust Sterling. But legal experts quoted in The New York Times have said that, even if that vote is achieved, Sterling may be within his rights to sue the NBA, since the league’s constitution does not name racist remarks as a reason for why an owner can be ousted.
Sterling has so far made no public comment on whether he will consent to selling the Clippers, but Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said on Sunday that he expects Sterling to resist doing so, following a recent private conversation between the two.
“I think that he thinks that he’s going to be the owner for a long time, that he wants to stay the owner,” said Mayor Garcetti on the CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday. “This will be a long, protracted fight and a painful thing for our city that is a great city, great American city.’”
Indeed, such resistance could foretell a war of attrition over the Clippers, spelling possible ruin for the team. Garcetti has said he would consider urging city residents to boycott Clippers games, should Sterling not step aside.
In a recent USA Today article, legal experts speculated that Sterling might try to use a divorce from his wife to delay selling the team. A divorce could turn the team into a coveted, disputed bauble in protracted divorce proceedings between the two.
Meanwhile, the team would be under the control of a California court, shielding it from sale.