Rochelle "Shelly" Sterling, the estranged wife of banned-for-life Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, "believes she is legally entitled to maintain ownership of the NBA team and will attempt to do so," according to James Rainey, Mike Bresnahan and Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times:
Sterling described her long tenure as a "die-hard" fan of the Clippers and said she believes that the sanctions against Donald Sterling — which included a lifetime ban and $2.5-million fine — do not apply to "me or my family."
Shelly Sterling's position presents a "wild card" for the pro basketball league as it faces its biggest crisis in memory, said a league official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. Her intention to hold on to the team is a wrinkle apparently not contemplated by NBA officials when they moved nine days ago to strip her estranged husband of ownership. [...]
The NBA had no immediate response to Shelly Sterling's desire to keep the team.
During the press conference at which he announced Sterling's lifetime ban for making racist comments that were captured on tape — and published days after Shelly Sterling's attorneys requested that V. Stiviano, Donald Sterling's longtime assistant/alleged girlfriend, "turn over all tapes and recordings made of herself and Sterling" as part of a court case in which Shelly Sterling is suing for money, cars, jewelry and more that her estranged husband allegedly bought Stiviano over the past four years, according to ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was asked if any decisions had been made about whether Sterling's immediate family members, "including Rochelle," would be allowed to maintain ownership or managerial control over the franchise.
"No, there have been no decisions about other members of the Sterling family, and I should say that this ruling applies specifically to Donald Sterling and Donald Sterling's conduct only," Silver said.
In the aftermath of the release of the recordings, Rochelle Sterling has significantly ramped up her public profile. She sat courtside at Game 4 of the Clippers' first-round series against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena in Oakland the day after the recordings were published, and released a statement in which she said her family was "devastated by the racist comments made by my estranged husband [and that her] children and I do not share these despicable views or prejudices."
"We will not let one man's small mindedness poison the spirit of the fans and accomplishments of the team in the city we love," she wrote in her statement to KABC-TV in Los Angeles. "We are doing everything in our power to stand by and support our Clippers team."
Earlier that day, she had told TMZ that Donald Sterling was not racist: "Oh, forget it. It's not true."
After the Clippers' Game 5 win over the Warriors, L.A. coach Doc Rivers expressed support for Shelly, according to Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears:
"It's a tough one for Shelly [Sterling], really," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said [...] "She didn't do anything wrong either. You have compassion for her. I kept hearing about the girlfriend. I kept thinking, 'Shelly is the wife.' You know what I mean? I talked to her [Tuesday] and she has been through as much as anyone as well."
In a 2009 deposition, a tenant at one of the Sterling’s apartment buildings in Los Angeles County said that Rochelle Sterling called him a “black m—f—” during a discussion at the building.
“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."
Attorney: “Did she say those exact words, ‘Latinos are so filthy’?”
Oliva: “I can’t remodel my building the way I want and that the building was filthy because of the Latinos." [...]
Shelly Sterling, citizen leader pic.twitter.com/MKGABToYDL
— Kevin Arnovitz (@kevinarnovitz) April 27, 2014
Rivers later acknowledged that Shelly Sterling's continued involvement with the Clippers could be a distraction.
Shelly Sterling has since issued statements expressing support for Silver's decision to appoint a new CEO to oversee the Clippers, and for longtime team president Andy Roeser taking an indefinite leave of absence from the franchise.
"While this is a painful step, it is a necessary one as we move forward with the NBA to make the Clippers organization one of the most professional and successful franchises in all of sports," she said.
That was trumped, however, by a Wednesday statement in which she asserted that she should be the owner of the Clippers if the NBA's Board of Governors continues its move to terminate Donald Sterling's ownership and force him to sell the team.
“I have been co-owner since 1981,” the latest statement said, according to Dan Woike of the Orange County Register. “During those 33 years, I have been a diehard fan even when the team was in the basement of the league. Now that all of our hard work is paying off, I want to celebrate the success that we are finally achieving.”
Her latest move goes beyond press releases, too — she has lawyered up, and her representation's talking a tough game. From Tami Abdollah of The Associated Press:
"She will not agree to a forced or involuntary seizure of her interest," said Shelly Sterling's attorney, Pierce O'Donnell. "As her lawyers we will fight vigorously to defend her property rights." [...]
"We abhor guilt by association in America," O'Donnell said. "The sins of the husband cannot be imputed to the wife or children."
Shelly Sterling's legal standing figures to be a matter of some debate — and, possibly, litigation — in the weeks and months ahead, which is likely to rankle the many observers who would prefer she and the rest of the Sterling family remain out of the picture and allow the franchise to move on.
"I think in the eyes of the players and the coaching staff and the basketball staff, the page has been turned, and I think it would be difficult to turn it back," legendary Clippers play-by-play broadcaster Ralph Lawler told the Times.
It's an attitude shared by the National Basketball Players Association, whose representatives have been clear in their preference for a non-Sterling-family ownership resolution.
"We're looking for a change in ownership," union vice president Roger Mason Jr. told our Marc J. Spears. "A complete change."
The NBA has reportedly informed Shelly Sterling that it would prefer she not attend Games 3 and 4 of the Clippers' second-round playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder this weekend. Attorney O'Donnell says she plans to be at Staples Center for Friday's Game 3.
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