The NBA's use of an "illegally recorded" conversation that took place during a "lovers' quarrel" cannot be used to strip Donald Sterling of ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers, according to a response filed with the league today by the embattled team owner.
The NBA is working to force a sale of the Clippers based on racially inflammatory comments that were caught on tape during a conversation between Sterling and companion V. Stiviano. But Sterling, in a response to the NBA's statement of charges against him, said he should not be forced out as an owner.
"The NBA's use of this illegal recording constitutes a clear and blatant violation of Mr. Sterling's California constitutional rights," according to the document, a copy of which was obtained by USA Today.
"The authors of the charge did not have the courage, decency or honesty to acknowledge the circumstances surrounding Mr. Sterling's jealous rant or even that the source of their information was born from the 'fruit of the poisonous tree.'
"So, in reality, Mr. Sterling is being banned for life, fined $2.5 million and stripped of his ownership for a purely private conversation with his lover that he did not know was being recorded and that he never intended would see the light of day.
"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 league had set a deadline of today for Sterling to respond to the allegations against him. The NBA's Board of Governors is expected to meet June 3 to discuss the case and possibly vote on whether to force Sterling to sell the team. A two-thirds vote of the board is required for such a move.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver lashed out at Sterling after the recorded conversations became public, banning Sterling for life from the league and fining him $2.5 million. Silver said Sterling's comments were detrimental to the league and its image.
On the recording, Sterling chastised Stiviano for appearing in photographs with black people -- including Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson -- and bringing them to Clippers games.
Sterling subsequently told CNN's Anderson Cooper in a televised interview that he was not a racist and that he had been "baited" into making the comments. He also told Cooper that Johnson was a poor role model because he was promiscuous, had contracted the HIV virus and has not, in Sterling's opinion, done much for black people.
Sterling bought the Clippers in 1981 for $12.5 million, but the team recently was valued by Forbes around $575 million, making it the league's 13th most valuable.
In his response to the league, Sterling insists that he was illegally recorded without his knowledge, and thus none of his comments can be used against him. He also contends that he has not violated the NBA's constitution, insiting, "A jealous rant to a lover never intended to be published cannot offend the NBA rules."
He said he was "distraught" during the conversation and having a "jealous reaction to Ms. Stiviano's statement that she was going to 'bring four gorgeous black guys to the game."'
Sterling also maintains that his comments to Anderson Cooper did not violate any NBA rules, saying that while his "opinions may be unpopular and false, they remain opinions."
USA Today reported that Sterling's wife, Shelly, is expected to file a response of her own with the league sometime tonight. Donald Sterling has authorized his wife to oversee a possible sale of the franchise. Various media outlets reported today that Shelly Sterling has hired Bank of America to conduct the sale.
--City News Service