NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Wednesday he was baffled by the latest attack on the league and himself from embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Speaking in a television interview from game three of the NBA championship finals in Miami, Silver said the league has no role in the brewing dispute between Donald Sterling and his wife Shelly, who has negotiated a proposed $2 billion sale of the club to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer.
Donald Sterling, who was facing the prospect of being stripped of the club over racially charged remarks he made to a girlfriend that became public in April, had said he would go along with the deal, but on Monday changed course and said he would fight it.
Donald Sterling is also pursuing a $1 billion lawsuit against the NBA and Silver, and in his latest broadside issued on Tuesday through a lawyer said the league was violating his rights “in order to draw attention away from their own discriminatory and repulsive conduct”.
In a statement issued through attorney Bobby Samini and published Tuesday on The Los Angeles Times website, Sterling accuses Silver of ignoring “the NBA’s own discriminatory practices, including those that occurred under his many years of leadership” — noting that Silver has worked in the league since 1992.
“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” Silver said. “This is about Donald Sterling and his conduct, and if he wants to litigate, he’ll litigate.”
Silver banned Donald Sterling for life from the NBA and fined him $2.5 million when his comments disparaging black people created provoked outrage.
However, proceedings to strip him of the club were halted after Shelly Sterling, acting as the head of the Sterling family trust, negotiated the blockbuster deal with Ballmer.
Donald Sterling at one point indicated he would support the sale, and drop the $1 billion lawsuit he filed against the NBA on the same day the deal was announced.
But on Monday he reversed course, reiterating his claim that because the comments were made in a conversation recorded without his permission they could not be the basis for sanctions.
“The action taken by Adam Silver and the NBA constitutes a violation of my rights and fly in the face of the freedoms that are afforded to all Americans,” Sterling said through Samini on Monday.
As Donald Sterling’s battle against the league rumbles on, he is reportedly facing a court challenge from his wife, who according to the Los Angeles Times was to ask a judge on Wednesday to confirm her authority to sell the Clippers.
Pierce O’Donnell, attorney for Shelly Sterling, declined to comment on the situation, nor would he confirm plans for a court hearing.
However, Donald Sterling’s attorney, Maxwell Blecher, told the newspaper he had been notified by Shelly Sterling’s lawyers that they plan to go to court on Wednesday to clarify who is in control of the family trust.
“The understanding we have is that she is going to go in and say that he has cognitive impairment that has prevented him from making decisions,” Blecher said. “And that is something we will oppose.”
Silver said the league had received a letter from an attorney for Donald Sterling saying he agreed to allow Shelly Sterling to negotiate a sale of the club.
But he said the NBA wouldn’t be involved in the tussle between the spouses.
“This is really now a dispute between the Sterlings,” he said. “We’re on the sidelines.”