Donald Sterling has authorized his wife Shelly to sell the Los Angeles Clippers, and she will try to sell the team voluntarily, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.
The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports Friday on condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks.
But their fight with the NBA might be far from over. Shelly Sterling has agreed to sell the team as long as she retains a minority interest in the Clippers, a second person with direct knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The person also requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations.
Such a condition is not acceptable to the league, which said Friday that it will proceed with plans to forcibly terminate the Sterlings' ownership with a three-quarters vote of league owners. On Friday, the league issued the following release:
"In response to reports about Donald Sterling surrendering controlling ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers, NBA spokesman Mike Bass stated, `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.'"
The latest move by the Sterlings appears to be an attempt to hang on to a share of the team in the face of imminent termination by the NBA. By turning the team over to his wife to sell, Donald Sterling removes himself from the equation - a move the league would welcome after banning him on April 29. By agreeing to sell on her terms, Shelly Sterling is signaling to the NBA that the league can avoid a protracted fight with her if it lets her keep an ownership share. Otherwise, she could fight a forced sale of the team in court or complicate the situation by filing for divorce, which could drag the case out by at least temporarily putting it under the jurisdiction of a California family law court.
The NBA has said its move to terminate Donald Sterling's ownership would also terminate any other ownership interest in the team.
On Tuesday at a press conference before the draft lottery, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he was open to the idea of the Sterlings selling the team without conducting the special hearing on June 3 to terminate their ownership.
"I'll only say that Mr. Sterling still owns the Los Angeles Clippers. Mrs. Sterling as I understand it through a trust owns 50% of the team, as well," Silver said. "It is their team to sell, and so he knows what the league's point of view is, and so I'm sure if he wanted to sell the team on some reasonable timetable, I'd prefer he sell it than we go through this process. … I'm open to that."
On the day he banned Donald Sterling for life, Silver said, "There have been no decisions about other members of the Sterling family, and I should say that this ruling applies specifically to Donald Sterling and Donald Sterling's conduct only."
But NBA players have pushed to remove the Sterling family entirely. On May 11, LeBron James said, "As players, we want what's right and we don't feel like no one in his family should be able to own the team."
The Clippers are owned by the Sterling Family Trust, in the names of Donald and Shelly Sterling. They bought the team for about $12.5 million in 1981, and the trust will be bequeathed to their children upon death.
Shelly Sterling's attorney, Pierce O'Donnell, has been in ongoing talks with the NBA as she tried to keep her stake in the team.
The NBA charged Sterling with damaging the league and its teams with his racist comments and said he engaged in other conduct that hurt its relationship with fans and merchandising partners.
Sterling was banned for life and fined $2.5 million by Silver after the release of a recording in which he made racist remarks. His attorney had said last week that Sterling would not pay the fine and did not warrant any punishment.
A person with knowledge of her interest told USA TODAY Sports that Oprah Winfrey is still interested in putting together a bid with David Geffen and Larry Ellison. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no other announcement was being made.