LOS ANGELES — The estranged wife of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling will fight to retain her 50 percent ownership stake in the team, her lawyer said Thursday, adding an unwanted twist to the NBA’s plan to force new ownership on the franchise.
Shelly Sterling’s attorney, Pierce O’Donnell, said his client “will not agree to a forced or involuntary seizure of her interest.”
“As her lawyers we will fight vigorously to defend her property rights,” he said.
O’Donnell said Mrs. Sterling has no interest in managing the Clippers and wants a new investor group to come in with a professional management team.
O’Donnell also told The Associated Press that Shelly Sterling has been separated from her husband for the last year and is considering divorce. There is no record of legal separation documents being filed, though O’Donnell said the couple is living apart.
Last week, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Donald Sterling from the NBA for life and urged league owners to force him to sell the team. The move came after a recording surfaced in which Sterling made racist comments, telling friend V. Stiviano that he didn’t want her to bring black people to Clippers games.
At a news conference announcing the decision, Silver said no decision had been made regarding whether Mrs. Sterling or any other Sterling family member will be allowed to retain an ownership position.
O’Donnell said he spoke with NBA officials Thursday morning but declined to elaborate. He said Mrs. Sterling has been working cooperatively with Silver and his staff and supported his announcement seeking a new chief executive officer for the team and the NBA’s decision to place longtime team President Andy Roeser on leave.
NBA spokesman Mike Bass said the league wouldn’t comment on its discussions.
O’Donnell said Mrs. Sterling “abhors” her husband’s comments and that “the Sterlings may share the same last name, but she does not share his values on race.” The Sterlings have been married 57 years, O’Donnell said.
“We abhor guilt by association in America,” O’Donnell said. “The sins of the husband cannot be imputed to the wife or children.”
Shelly and Donald Sterling faced allegations that they discriminated against tenants based on race in Los Angeles according to a lawsuit filed by U.S. Department of Justice in 2006. The Sterlings, who at the time owned and managed about 119 apartment buildings or 5,000 apartments throughout Los Angeles County, agreed to settle the suit for $2.725 million.
The settlement also included two suits filed by former tenants at one of the properties, including an African-American family and an interracial married couple with biracial children, who alleged the Sterlings demolished their private yards among other actions because of their race, according to the Justice Department.
“The charges against her by former tenants are false, unfounded and were never ever determined to be valid in a court of law,” O’Donnell said. He said the case was settled without any admission of liability. “She doesn’t have a racist bone in her body,” O’Donnell said.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Thursday at the team’s training facility that “it would be a very hard situation” if Mrs. Sterling retained her portion of ownership in the team.
“I guarantee you every person wouldn’t be on board with that,” Rivers said. “Whether I would or not, I’m not going to say.”
O’Donnell said Mrs. Sterling hasn’t been asked to stay away from games and will not. She is an ardent Clippers fan and plans to attend Friday night’s playoff game against Oklahoma City. Rivers said “that’s her choice. She can be a ticket buyer or whatever.”
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA All-Star guard who was asked to serve as a spokesman for NBA players after the Sterling scandal broke, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams