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Apology, Defense And Defiance: The Sterlings Speak Out


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. The LA Clippers pulled off a comeback victory last night to tie up their playoff series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but that's not the Clippers conversation of the day. That conversation centers on Donald Sterling, the now-banned Clippers owner. He has broken his silence.

In a CNN interview, Sterling apologized for racist remarks that emerged on an audio tape. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Donald Sterling told CNN's Anderson Cooper the last few weeks have been a terrible nightmare. The audio tape with him admonishing a young woman friend not to bring black people to Clippers games, the national outrage, the distraction to the team he says he loves and respects as it competes for an NBA title.

DONALD STERLING: They didn't need this cloud over their head. And they're good people. When they hear that I'm a possible racist, it's so painful to me 'cause I'm not a racist and I've never been a racist.

GOLDMAN: Sterling had a message for his fellow owners as well. He's sorry and wants forgiveness.

DONALD STERLING: I mean, I love my league. I love my partners. Am I entitled to one mistake? It's a terrible mistake, and I'll never do it again.

GOLDMAN: He may not get the chance. On top of NBA commissioner Adam Silver's lifetime ban of Sterling and a $2.5 million fine, the 29 other owners are expected to push for Sterling sell the Clippers. Sterling has a litigious history, and there's an expectation he'll legally fight a forced sale. But in the interview, Sterling did not sound like a man ready to go to court.

DONALD STERLING: At the end of the road, what do I benefit? - especially at my age. If they fight with me and they spend millions and I spend millions, let's say I win or they win; I just don't know if that's important.

GOLDMAN: Jeff Fellenzer is a senior lecturer in sports business and media at the University of Southern California.

JEFF FELLENZER: That may be just so much posturing now and, you know, he could turn around and feel like no, I'm going to fight this to the bitter end. But I was a little surprised that, at least in the interview, he had that sense of remorse that he wasn't going to put people through that.

GOLDMAN: No such remorse from Sterling's wife. Last week, Shelly Sterling made clear she'd always been half owner of the Clippers and would assert her rights to what she said was her 50 percent. While her husband poured out his heart to CNN, Mrs. Sterling reiterated her plan to ABC's Barbara Walters.

BARBARA WALTERS: Well, there are reports that the NBA wants to oust you completely as a team owner. You will fight that decision?

SHELLY STERLING: I will fight that decision.

GOLDMAN: NPR asked the NBA for a response to both Sterlings' comments but didn't hear back. Following Mrs. Sterling's interview, league spokesman Mike Bass said the following in a statement: Under the NBA constitution, if a controlling owner's interest is terminated by a three-fourths vote, all other team owners' interests are automatically terminated as well. It doesn't matter whether the owners are related, as is the case here.

These are the rules to which all NBA owners agreed to as a condition of owning their team. In a dueling statement, Shelly Sterling's lawyer called the NBA's interpretation of its constitution self-serving. Attorney Pierce O'Donnell added: We live in a nation of laws. California law and the U.S. Constitution trump any such interpretation.

Meanwhile, the Clippers - perhaps relieved to be out of LA - play a critical Game 5 in their series tomorrow in Oklahoma City.

Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on