NBA Wants to Ban Shelly Sterling, Too

The NBA wants to get rid of Donald Sterling's estranged wife, too.


The NBA wants to get rid of Donald Sterling’s estranged wife, too.

ESPN (“NBA looking to oust Shelly Sterling“):

The NBA believes it has the legal grounds to oust both Shelly Sterling and her husband as owners, despite the fact that commissioner Adam Silver’s punishments were specifically leveled only against Donald, according to sources with knowledge of the league’s legal strategy.

Shelly Sterling, the estranged wife of exiled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, has made it clear to the NBA that she intends to retain her 50 percent ownership interest in the team.

She has publicly and privately cooperated with the league in its actions to ban her husband for life and move to oust him from ownership. However, the league’s contention will be that Shelly Sterling — while entitled to a 50 percent interest in the franchise — has never been approved by the board of governors as the controlling owner. She and team president Andy Roeser, who went on an indefinite leave of absence this week, were only alternate governors.

In order to become the team’s new controlling owner, Shelly Sterling would have to be approved by the board of governors, which is unlikely given her association with her husband of 58 years.

Former Lakers great Magic Johnson said Friday that none of the current Clippers players would play for Shelly Sterling if she retains her ownership.

“Those guys are not going to play for anybody (named) Sterling,” Johnson told USA TODAY Sports and two other reporters at the Omni Dallas Hotel. “It’s just how it is. It’s hard to separate the two. … It’s going to be hard for them to sell that to the fans and definitely to the players.”

[…]’s Darren Rovell reported last week that the NBA believes it has a case to remove Donald Sterling because he has signed several contracts over the years that state an owner will not take any position or action that will materially and adversely affect a team or the league. Owners also sign morals clauses, which state they will be upheld to the highest standard of ethical and moral behavior.

The NBA believes that Sterling’s racist statements in a private conversation with his assistant V. Stiviano, which were later published by TMZ, constitute a violation of those contracts.

When morals clauses are enacted and result in termination of agreements, including endorsement deals, the courts often are charged with interpreting who was right, but sources with knowledge of the NBA’s legal strategy believe that they have enough to force Sterling to sell.

Shelly Sterling has publicly distanced herself from her estranged husband -whom she’s been separated from for the last few years — since the scandal broke two weeks ago. “Donald’s on his own,” O’Donnell said. “She’s distanced herself from him, she’s repudiated his racist statements. He has nothing to do with the team anymore, he can’t go to the games. What happens to Donald, happens to Donald. She wants to retain her interests.

“Shelly was found by Commissioner Silver to be blameless. This is about Donald. Push Donald out, but don’t throw his innocent wife over the cliff.”

‘While I have reservations about punishing Donald Sterling for private conversation, I understand why the NBA banned him. Further, while I’m not sure that expressing bigoted thoughts is in and of itself a violation of “morals,” I think they’re on pretty firm legal ground in forcing him to sell his ownership stake.

For the life of me, though, I can’t see any grounds for punishing his estranged wife.  They’ve been separated for years, she is in no way involved in the conversation—which was, after all, with Mr. Sterling’s mistress—and she quickly repudiated the remarks. They’re going to divest her of her ownership stake on the basis of her last name being “Sterling”? That would be outrageous, indeed.

Magic Johnson—who has something of a conflict of interest here, since he is apparently in the market to buy the team—has argued that Mrs. Sterling is complicit:

“When they accused them of (being) slumlords, that was both, it wasn’t one person,” Johnson said. “It was both of them. … They will never recover from this. All the sponsors pulling out, they will pull out for good if she is owning it. It’s not going to be the same.”

Regardless of her involvement in that matter, of which I have only passing knowledge, it has long since been adjudicated. It took place well before Doc Rivers agreed to come aboard as coach and before any of the current players signed their contract with the Sterling-owned club. It’s therefore a rather thin pretext for any of them to get out of their contract with the Clippers.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Race and Politics, Sports, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Is there a letter’s worth of difference between “strange” and “estrange”? It seems like a lot less.

  2. KM says:

    If the NBA is actively trying to fuel the nasty conspiracy theories about a hostile money grab, well done. If not, they might as well be. She is innocent of the original infraction that cause the punishment and was therefore not officially punished with him. They have no right. They want her gone then level an appropriate punishment for an appropriate infraction – otherwise you just come out looking like greedy d-bags.

  3. al-Ameda says:

    This a great story. There is so much at play here – the private remarks becoming public, the past history of Sterling as a slumlord, not to mention about 30 years of an extremely low level of ownership quality. So, I understand why the league wants Sterling out.

    However, I do think the Sterlings have a strong position if they elect to litigate the forced sale of their franchise. The other NBA franchise owners (and franchise owners in other sports) have to be not just a little bit nervous about the power being exercised here. Even weak franchises have a value of of at least $500 million. The Clippers franchise, long a league laughing stock, would probably sell for $750M to $1B today.

    From an entertainment, legal policy and news standpoint, I hope the Sterling’s sue and this drags out for a few years.

  4. Andre Kenji says:

    You don´t own a NBA team, you are a member of a club. That´s a vital difference between the American leagues of Professional Sports(That are controlled by it´s members) and the Sportive Associations in other countries.

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    @Andre Kenji: Absolutely correct, it is a country club and as such they can kick you out whenever they want.

  6. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    If the players won’t play for her, she’s done anyway. A professional NBA team does not assemble itself, nor quickly.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @James in Silverdale, WA: But it’s already assembled. Players are under contract.

  8. superdestroyer says:

    @James in Silverdale, WA:
    I doubt if any player is going to sit out and not get paid rather than play for someone named Sterling.

    And besides, Magic Johnson should be conflicted out from commenting on this story since he represents a group that wants to purchase the clippers.

  9. James Pearce says:

    With each passing day, this story is getting sleazier and sleazier.

  10. rudderpedals says:

    Looking forward to seeing Shelly’s thank-you note to Magic on the lovely pubic humiliation. Crowning a cucquean?

  11. superdestroyer says:

    @superdestroyer: Oh, I forget to add that James Sterling was penalized merely for speaking the truth. This is just one more example of how we’re becoming a one party state.

  12. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    @superdestroyer: “speaking the truth”

    Which truth is that, exactly?

  13. Tyrell says:

    Two weeks ago it was Mr. Sterling who said something dumb, then last week it was an NHL player (it did not get a lot of press or attention, maybe because the Clippers thing was still going on), now it is the two guys on the HGTV who said or did something a time sgo and the network acts like a deer in headlights. With this latest; however, there has been no outcry at all, little if any comments, most people are asking “what did they do?” . Everyone seems puzzled by HGTV’s strange, impulsive action. Maybe people are getting tired of the networks’ obsessions with every thing a person says or does. Is there something else going on here?
    This week two home improvement guys (well respected, popular, clean cut). Who gets it next week? A rock singer? A car body repair person ? A judge? A bowling instructor? A tv show producer? A show girl ? A fashion designer ? A telephone installer? A sea captain? A billiards player ? How about a cabinet member? A traffic director? Perhaps a travel agent. We will see – who will go before the media’s judgement throne.

  14. DrDaveT says:

    @Andre Kenji: Exactly. I do not understand why people persist in reporting on this as if the law of the land were somehow relevant. This is an internal dispute among members of a private club. The law has no more to say here than if the NBA owners had agreed to forbid purple socks, and Mr. Sterling had violated this rule with flagrant heliotrope argyle.

  15. bill says:

    @al-Ameda: good points, and what happens if he dies before the litigation is settled!? i mean, he has cancer and he’s in his 80’s so it may not be long for him. i wonder who he’s “willed” his team share to?

  16. James Joyner says:

    @bill: My understanding is that his shares are technically owned by a trust, which would survive him.

  17. the Q says:

    James, you missed the point entirely here. Shelly dressed as a “goverment” inspector to gain unlawful access to minority owners apartments to evict them (its on videotape) and used derogatory slurs which are contained in depositions from the aggrieved parties.

    Just like the Wall street banksters and large corporations, they paid off the Justice department via a whopping fine while not admitting “guilt”.

    So you would have no problem if Kurt Waldheim wanted to own a soccer team in the US either (if he were alive of course).

  18. James Joyner says:

    @the Q: Shelly Sterling has been an owner of the Clippers for more than three decades. While I was not aware of the “housing inspector” story until recently, it was surely well played out in the LA media and the players would have been aware of it. The NBA didn’t punish either of the Sterlings for it when the news came out years ago. It would be bizarre, indeed, to retroactively take her shares of the team away over this.