Granting exclusive interviews to ABC News and CNN, 80-year-old Donald Sterling and his semi-estranged 79-year-old wife Rochelle [Shelly] are in the damage control mode after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned the octogenarian April 29 for life from any involvement with the NBA. Sterling’s hapless apology to CNN’s Anderson Cooper says more about his mental state than the murky events leading to his 31-year-old lady-friend V. Stiviano secret recording. Proving that less-is-more, Shelly tried her own hand at damage control telling ABC’s Barbara Walters she believes her husband has “onset of dementia,” admitting that Donald told her he has no recollection of making racist remarks. Regardless of all “legal rights,” neither Donald nor Shelly accepts that the NBA’s determined to rid the league of Donald’s ownership of an NBA franchise, not passing the team to Shelly.
Shelly’s been advised by her attorney Pierce O’Donnell that she has a legal right under California’s community property law to 50% of her husband’s NBA franchise. What they haven’t caught up with is that Silver banned her husband for life April 29, in effect yanking the franchise. Whatever cognitive impairments led to her husband’s racist remarks, Shelly knows nothing about basketball, other than spending the past 35-years attending Clippers games. Her financial resources don’t qualify her to replace her husband’s ownership. NBA Hall-of-Fame Los Angeles Lakers guard, LA businessman and part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers Earvin “Magic” Johnson told ABC News at the May 11 Clippers playoff game that no Sterling can own the Clippers. “First, the fans wouldn’t like it,” Johnson said. “The players definitely wouldn’t like it, everybody would boycott.”
Johnson’s message to Donald and Shelly is simple: The NBA doesn’t accept any involvement by the Sterling family. Banned for life and fined $2.5 million by Silver April 29, the NBA’s league office took the strongest possible line once the NBA Players Association signaled that all NBA players would boycott the playoffs with anything less than a lifetime ban. Sterling asked the NBA through his May 12 interview with Anderson Cooper to forgive him for making one mistake in 35 years. “I am not a racist,” Sterling told Cooper. “I made a terrible, terrible mistake. And I’m here with you today to apologize and to ask for forgiveness for all the people that I’ve hurt,” Sterling told Cooper, showing signs of what Shelly called “onset of dementia.” Sterling suggested he was “baited” by “V” into making racist remarks, proving that he lacks the judgment needed to own an NBA franchise.
Like other private clubs, the NBA sets its own criteria for ownership. Sterling’s actions so disgraced the NBA and harmed the league’s carefully honed brand that Silver felt compelled to end Sterling’s franchise agreement. What the Sterling’s don’t get is that an NBA franchise is good as its relationship to fans, players and sponsors: All want an end to Sterling ownership. Silver named former Time Warner’s AOL CEO 67-year-old Richard “Dick” Parsons as interim CEO to assure continuity to Clippers’ management as the league proceeds to strip Sterling of the franchise. Asked Sunday whether he was interested in owning the Clippers, Johnson said it was premature to discuss ownership options when the NBA had more work to do end Sterling’s franchise. Silver now asks at least 75% of the NBA’s remaining 29 owners to agree to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.
Waiting over three weeks since Harvey Levin’s Hollywood gossip site TMZ Sports released the secretly recorded tape April 25, Sterling’s mea culpa to Anderson Cooper comes an hour-late-and-a-dollar-short. NBA players, fans and sponsors were so offended by Sterling’s racist remarks that his conduct was unforgivable, at least in terms of owning an NBA franchise. What Sterling doesn’t get is that you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Whether Donald is really racist or suffering from age-related cognitive decline is anyone’s guess. All anyone knows is that his ugly words shocked the NBA, prompted comments from President Barack Obama and sparked a nationwide debate about race. Sterling wants to take back his words but it’s too late for the NBA’s fans, players and sponsors. Getting fair-market-value for the team is the best the Sterling’s can get when all is said and done.
Telling ABC’s Barbara Walters that she’s prepared to fight to save her 50% of the team, Shelly doesn’t get that it’s not about her Constitutional rights. All Sports franchises are valued according to a arcane formula including TV rights, branding, advertising, merchandising, players’ star-power, winning tradition, sports markets and other intangibles. Given the heavy African American representation in the NBA, Sterling’s ugly words cut to the quick, offending just about everyone associated with the league. Sterling told Anderson Cooper “he loves the league” yet his advise to “V” about not associating or bringing blacks to Clippers games crossed the line, ending whatever legitimacy he enjoyed as an NBA owner. Disgracing the NBA, defiling the Clippers Brand and deeply offending all African Americans warrant only one appropriate consequence: Ending any Sterling ownership.