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Donald Sterling's wife, Shelly: We're just business partners

By Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 4:22 PM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
  • Shelly Sterling: I am estranged from my husband, and we're just business partners
  • She says she didn't help write news release for Clippers after scandal broke
  • Los Angeles Times reports on the contents of an NBA document on Donald Sterling
  • Times: League suggests team president got a copy of recording before it was released

(CNN) -- The wife of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling claims the two are just business partners and denies she was involved in the team's response in the hours after racist comments by her husband were released online, Shelly Sterling's attorney said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported Donald Sterling tried to cover up the scandal and met with his wife and the team president to craft a response to an audio recording where he made disparaging remarks about African-Americans to his friend V. Stiviano.

Team President Andy Roeser, who is on leave, also was in on the drafting of the statement that questioned the validity of the recording and suggested it was released by someone seeking revenge against Donald Sterling, according to the newspaper's account of the NBA document.

"Shelly Sterling had no involvement whatsoever in any decision on the content or release of the April 26 statement by the Clippers regarding her estranged husband. Moreover, she had no knowledge of the statement until after it was issued by the Clippers," attorney Pierce O'Donnell said in a written statement.

The Times report cited a 30-page NBA document detailing the charges against Donald Sterling that could lead to the Sterlings losing the team they have owned since 1981. The Sterlings own the franchise through a family trust, with each spouse having a 50% share.

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The league said it has been damaged by Sterling's racist remarks, which were posted online in April by TMZ, and other bigoted comments aired in an exclusive interview with CNN's "AC 360."

O'Donnell also denied the NBA's claim, as reported by the Times, that the Sterlings aren't estranged. He said they have been living in separate homes for more than a year and have both announced they intend to divorce. But they remain business partners, he said.

While the NBA states in document that the Sterlings went to dinner after the scandal broke and Shelly Sterling appeared to defend her husband from media charges of racisim, O'Donnell explained that it was Donald Sterling's birthday.

He said Shelly Sterling was invited at the last minute by a friend, who hoped she might persuade her husband to apologize for the racist remarks. When she left the restaurant with her husband, she thought the media recording the Sterlings was asking her whether she was a racist, O'Donnell said.

"Shelly has denounced his racist statements in the strongest terms," he said.

A person at the office for Donald Sterling's attorney, Maxwell Blecher, said they will have no comment until they have all documents from the NBA's investigation.

May 27 deadline to respond

The Times reported that the NBA document it obtained accuses the billionaire real estate investor of trying to persuade V. Stiviano to tell a league investigator she altered the recording and it wasn't Sterling making racist remarks on the audio.

According to the story, the NBA alleges Sterling and Stiviano met on May 2, about a week after the recording containing racist remarks was released by TMZ and just before Stiviano was interviewed by Barbara Walters on ABC.

"Sterling asked Stiviano to tell the NBA that she lied in her previous meeting with the league," the Times reported.

On Monday, the NBA released a summary of the charges against Sterling, who has until May 27 to respond.

In it, the NBA said: "In the course of the investigation into Mr. Sterling's conduct, it was discovered that relevant evidence was destroyed, false and misleading evidence was provided to the NBA's investigator, and (the franchise) issued a false and misleading press statement regarding this matter."

The newspaper also reported the NBA is prepared to argue at a special June 3 meeting of the NBA board of governors that Roeser heard the recording on April 9, weeks before it went online, after a Clippers employee sent Roeser a copy. The document says Roeser told the employee to delete the audio file and text messages about it from a cell phone. Roeser is now on indefinite leave from the team.

When asked by a CNN producer at a Tuesday news conference what evidence had been destroyed, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he wouldn't comment on the specifics of the investigation.

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Silver said on Tuesday he is confident the league will be able to force the Sterlings to sell the franchise for violating the NBA constitution, though the new commissioner would prefer they sell the team without the league's pushing.

"It is their team to sell," Silver, who has been commissioner for three months, said ahead of the league's draft lottery. "(They) know what the league's point of view is. If (they) wanted to sell the team on some reasonable timetable, I prefer (they) sell it than we go through this process."

The chances of that happening appear unlikely. Sterling, through his lawyer, sent a letter to the league saying he won't pay a $2.5 million fine and threatening to sue if he isn't afforded due process.

To terminate the Sterlings' franchise rights, 75% (23) of the 30 team owners would have to vote to sustain the charge and force a sale at the board meeting. Because Sterling is banned from any NBA activities, he is not allowed to vote, but the Clippers will have a vote, the NBA said.

In the case of a forced sale, the league does have a duty to the Sterlings to sell the team for the highest possible price, Silver said. The commissioner, who took over from David Stern in February, told reporters if it gets to that point, the league will hire investment bankers to conduct the sale.

Silver expressed confidence that eventually a new group will own the Clippers, who, led by all-stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs this season before losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Some analysts have said the team could be worth more than $1 billion. Forbes magazine lists the franchise's value at $575 million.

"We know we're doing the right thing and I know I have the owners behind me," Silver said.

CNN interview damages Sterling's case

In his interview with CNN's "AC 360" last week, Sterling talked about his relationship with Stiviano and racism in America, and he trashed Magic Johnson and other minorities.

"That's one problem I have. Jews, when they get successful, they will help their people. And some of the African-Americans, maybe I'll get in trouble again, they don't want to help anybody," said Sterling, who is Jewish.

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CNN's Brian Todd, Rosalina Nieves, Ed Payne, Jill Martin, Dave Alsup, Adam Reiss and Stephanie Elam contributed to this report.

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