Embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has surrendered control of the NBA club to his estranged wife, Shelly, who is in talks with the league to sell the team, according to media reports on Friday.
Celebrity gossip Web site TMZ reported that Sterling, banned for life from the NBA this month by league commissioner Adam Silver for racist comments that have damaged the league, realized the league would force him to sell eventually, citing unnamed sources close to the Clippers organization.
The move would allow Shelly Sterling and her attorneys to control some terms of the sale, as she was not banned by the league.
TMZ reported Shelly Sterling, who has a secondary ownership stake in the Clippers, is prepared to sue the NBA if the league orders an involuntary sale of the team.
“Shelly Sterling’s preference has always been to find a way to resolve this dispute amicably with the NBA in a mutually satisfactory manner,” TMZ quoted Shelly Sterling attorney Pierce O’Donnell as saying.
ESPN reported that Shelly Sterling was in talks with the league to orchestrate a sale.
The NBA, in a response to the latest reports, would not confirm any talks with her, saying only that it remains on target to conduct a June 3 hearing before league owners at which Donald Sterling could be stripped of the Clippers.
“We continue to follow the process set forth in the NBA constitution regarding termination of the current ownership interests in the Los Angeles Clippers and are proceeding toward a hearing on this matter on June 3,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement.
NBA owners are expected to vote upon Sterling’s fate after the hearing, likely ending his tenure as owner of the Clippers if it gets that far.
Sterling has until Tuesday to make a formal reply to the league’s charges against him.
The league previously has said that while it has no ban on Shelly Sterling, her ownership stake would be terminated if her husband is tossed out as the Clippers owner under terms of the franchise agreement Donald Sterling signed when he bought the club for US$12 million in 1981.
The Clippers are valued at nearly US$600 million by Forbes magazine and could fetch substantially more, given the publicity.
Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers said it would be “hard” for players to accept Shelly Sterling as an owner of the Clippers herself, fearing that she is not as estranged from her husband as she might want people to believe and that she would be really running the team as a shadow proxy for Donald Sterling.
Meanwhile, retired Chinese superstar Yao Ming is lining up investors to make a bid for the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers if Donald Sterling has to sell, ESPN.com reported on Friday.
Yao is just the latest celebrity to be linked to a potential Clippers bid since Sterling was engulfed in a scandal over racially charged remarks that became public last month.
ESPN, citing unnamed sources, said that Yao and another former NBA player, Grant Hill, were working separately to find investors to launch bids.
Yao became an NBA star with the Houston Rockets, who made him the first pick in the 2002 NBA draft.
He owns a team in China, the Shanghai Sharks, and maintains close ties with the NBA.
Hill is just completing his first year in retirement after a 19-season career that ended with the Clippers after seven All-Star berths.