BY BETH HARRIS, AP SPORTS WRITER
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shelly Sterling was reviewing bids from five groups interested in buying the Los Angeles Clippers, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The individual, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the deal, said if an agreement to sell is reached before next Tuesday, the league’s owners wouldn’t meet in New York to vote on terminating Donald Sterling’s ownership.
The individual wouldn’t specify the interested buyers, but described them as major players with considerable financial means. The person told the AP the sale price “appears to be increasing to an unbelievable number,” and that it could soar past $1.5 to $2 billion, and possibly more.
Another person familiar with the negotiations said Shelly Sterling’s attorneys, bankers and others involved in the process were in a locked room reviewing the bids, which were due by 2 p.m. PDT Wednesday. The individual wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the sensitive and competitive negotiations.
Donald Sterling’s attorney, Bobby Samini, said there would be no sale of the team without Donald Sterling’s involvement, though he declined to say whether Sterling was involved in reviewing bids or in touch with Shelly Sterling.
“Mr. Sterling is an owner of the team, and there will be no sale of the team without his involvement,” Samini said.
But a May 22 letter obtained by The Associated Press and written by another one of Sterling’s attorneys says that “Donald T. Sterling authorizes Rochelle Sterling to negotiate with the National Basketball Association regarding all issues in connection with a sale of the Los Angeles Clippers team.” It includes the line “read and approved” and Donald Sterling’s signature.
NBA spokesman Mike Bass said the league’s advisory/finance committee met Wednesday by phone to discuss the separate responses from Donald and Shelly Sterling to the NBA on its efforts to terminate the Sterlings’ ownership of the Clippers.
The first individual told the AP that the league’s owners know a sale couldn’t be completed by next Tuesday. But if an agreement was in place, the NBA would give the Sterlings extra time before holding any meetings.
The individual said the league hopes a voluntary sale would remove the potential of legal action being taken by the Sterlings.
The person told the AP that at this point, with Donald Sterling saying he plans to fight the matter in court, the NBA intends to go forward with the meeting in New York on June 3.
A forced sale would require approval by three-fourths of the league’s 30 owners. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said he is confident he would get the necessary votes.
On Tuesday, Donald Sterling issued a fiery response to the league’s attempt to oust him. The league charged that he had damaged it and its merchandising partners with his racist comments about blacks in a recording released last month.
He argued that there is no basis for stripping him of his team because his statements were illegally recorded “during an inflamed lovers’ quarrel in which he was clearly distraught.”
According to the response, a copy of which was obtained by the AP, Sterling says girlfriend V. Stiviano recorded him without his knowledge, which is illegal under California law. He also said he could not have “willfully” damaged the league because he did not know it would be made public.
“We do not believe a court in the United States of America will enforce the draconian penalties imposed on Mr. Sterling in these circumstances, and indeed, we believe that preservation of Mr. Sterling’s constitutional rights requires that these sham proceedings be terminated in Mr. Sterling’s favor,” the response said.
Donald Sterling was banned for life and fined $2.5 million by Silver after the recording was made public.
It is possible Shelly Sterling could complete an expedited sale of the team despite her husband’s legal wranglings, according to Daniel Lazaroff, director of the Sports Law Institute at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
“She would have to be willing to go through with a sale that gave her absolutely no retained ownership interest in order to satisfy the league,” said Lazaroff, a law professor at the school. “If she did that, I don’t think the league would stand in her way. If she wants to retain any portion of ownership it wouldn’t work.”
Even if Shelly Sterling accepts an offer, the league has the right to approve potential owners, a lengthy process that would almost certainly not be completed by next Tuesday.
“The best case scenario is she finds a suitable buyer,” Lazaroff said. “That would work for the league and from a financial standpoint that would work for the Sterlings. If the sale price is satisfactory, the smart thing might be to just get out. He’s a businessman who understands buy low and sell high.”
Donald Sterling purchased the Clippers for $12 million in 1981, making him the league’s longest-tenured owner.
He argued in his response to the league’s charges that he can’t get a fair hearing next week because the other owners have already made up their minds to oust him.
Lazaroff noted that Sterling signed the NBA’s constitution when he joined the league, and its bylaws spell out specific procedures for terminating ownership. He said as long as the league follows its own rules it should be on solid legal ground.
“I could see a happy ending to this,” Lazaroff said, “but it will depend on both of the Sterlings being out of the picture.”