Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling responded Tuesday to the NBA's massive fine and attempt to terminate his ownership of the team in a 27-page document, obtained by San Diego's KUSI News. Sterling's statement calls the penalties "draconian," and indicates he will fight the charges and attempt to keep his franchise.
In his response, Sterling says the infamous phone recording between himself and V. Stiviano was obtained "illegally," since it was a private conversation and under California law cannot be used in any legal proceedings.
Sterling, through his attorney, says in the response:
We believe that preservation of Mr. Sterling's constitutional rights requires that these sham proceedings be terminated in Mr. Sterling's favor. This is particularly true when over its entire history the NBA has never fined anyone as much as $2.5 million, never suspended any owner for life, and never undertaken to confiscate an owner's team for any offense, much less an alleged offense originating in a conversation in a private setting that was illegally recorded.
The statement also cites the NBA constitution article stating owners may be terminated for "fail or refuse to fulfill its contractual obligations to the Association, its Members, Players, or any other third party in such a way as to affect the Association of its Members adversely" — and argues that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has not established a proper violation of this.
The response also says Sterling's comments during Anderson Cooper's interview do not violate the NBA constitution.
Further, the response claims that the recording is "an inflamed lovers' quarrel in which he was clearly distraught," but "he did not take or support a position or action."
It's facially ludicrous that what Mr. Sterling said in these circumstances could produce the equivalent of a death penalty while Kobe Bryant called a referee a "fucking faggot" on national television sustaining only a modest $100,000 fine.
If the Sterlings are forced to sell the team, it would cause "vast and avoidable financial consequences" for the couple due to 33% capital gains tax that would be imposed in a sale, he alleges, which would not occur if the team were passed through the usual process.
The 80-year-old billionaire also says he cannot properly respond to the NBA's allegations and investigate what happened because he has been locked out of his office at the Staples Center and prohibited from any involvement with the Clippers.
Last week, Sterling reportedly surrendered ownership of the team to his wife, Rochelle Sterling who has been entertaining offers from potential buyers of the team. It is not entirely clear if the NBA will authorize Rochelle Sterling to control a sale of the Clippers.
"We're working furiously to secure a buyer, and we're working cooperatively with the NBA on the sale process," Pierce O'Donnell, Rochelle Sterling's lawyer, said in a telephone interview with the New York Times.
Rochelle Sterling met over the weekend with potential buyer and former Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, according to the Times. Ballmer joins a list of people who have expressed an interest in potentially buying the Clippers.
In response, the NBA released a statement that says it will meet on June 3 to vote on the charge and whether the Sterlings' interests in the Clippers will be terminated and sold:
This evening, the NBA received responses from Donald and Shelly Sterling to the charge to terminate the current ownership interests in the Los Angeles Clippers. The NBA Board of Governors will meet on June 3 at 1 p.m. in New York City to hear and vote upon this matter. Should the Board vote to sustain the charge, the Sterlings' interests in the Clippers will be terminated and the team will be sold.
Michelle Broder Van Dyke is a reporter and night editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Hawaii.
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