Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling reiterated to Fox News Wednesday that the team "is not for sale," likely signaling a looming legal battle with the NBA should his fellow owners try to force a sale over Sterling's racist remarks.
The prospect of a forced sale of the team was raised Tuesday by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after he announced Sterling will be banned for life and fined $2.5 million for comments recorded by his alleged former mistress. Owners plan to vote on the matter next week, and an affirmative vote by 22 of the league's 29 owners could force Sterling to divest.
But experts say the case could be tied up in court for years if Sterling fights back. Richard Sheehan, the author of "Keeping Score: The Economics of Big-Time Sports," told The Los Angeles Times that the 80-year-old Sterling, a lawyer and real estate tycoon, could tie up the sale of the team for the rest of his life.
"It would be an absolute disaster," Sheehan said. The article pointed out that Sterling could also make up to $1 billion on the sale of the team because the NBA is about to renegotiate its national television contract.
Sterling, who has owned the franchise for 33 years, has not spoken publicly since TMZ posted the audio recording of him telling his alleged girlfriend not to bring black people to his games.
"It's distasteful, it's disgusting, but what he said is still ostensibly private conduct"
- Robert Boland, an NYU sports management professor
"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?" Sterling asks the woman on the tape.
Players cheered Silver's quick action, with union officials saying that if the league's punishment hadn't included a mandate for Sterling to sell the team, players were considering boycotting playoff games, including Tuesday's Golden State Warriors-Clippers matchup, the team's first home game since the scandal erupted.
But other experts said it is not clear what authority the NBA could have to force Sterling to sell over private remarks.
"It's distasteful, it's disgusting, but what he said is still ostensibly private conduct," Robert Boland, an NYU sports management professor told The LA Times.
Sports Illustrated points out that the procedure of a forced sale is based more on financial difficulties by an owner rather than a league-imposed punishment. Article 13 in the league's bylaws does contain a requirement of ethical dealings in conduct, according to the report.
Sterling has a long history of legal fights, including being sued for housing discrimination that followed another lawsuit alleging that Sterling attempted to drive out minority tenants. The latter suit was settled.
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, tweeted that he agreed with the actions taken against Sterling and called his comments "abhorrent."
But Cuban appeared to stop short of calling for a forced sale.
"If we’re taking something somebody said in their home and we're trying to turn it into something that leads to you being forced to divest property in any way, shape or form, that’s not the United States of America. I don't want to be part of that," he said.
Sterling's Clippers have been one of the most incompetent franchises in pro sports, and nearly all of their previous seasons would have been finished by now. But after the most successful two-year stretch in Clippers history, the current team is a title contender led by Doc Rivers, a black coach whom Sterling brought in from Boston and paid $7 million a year.
Rivers canceled practice Monday and declined a meeting request from Sterling. He wouldn't address whether he would return next season if Sterling were still in control, a stance reaffirmed by the coach before Game 5 of the Clippers' playoff series with Golden State.
A lawyer for V. Stiviano said the woman Sterling was talking to when he made the comments is saddened by the lifetime ban, and she denies releasing the recording.
Attorney Siamak Nehoray tells the Los Angeles Times that his client "never wanted any harm" to come to Sterling and is devastated that the remarks became public.
Sterling's estranged wife has sued Viviano, seeking to reclaim a $1.8-million home, cash and luxury cars given to her by Sterling. The lawsuit alleges that Viviano is Sterling's mistress.
But Nehoray says the 31-year-old Viviano and Sterling never had a romantic relationship. He says she worked as an archivist for Sterling.
The Associated Press contributed to this report