After weeks of signaling he would fight hard to hold on to the Clippers, Donald Sterling launched a new strategy Friday that would transfer full ownership of the NBA team to his wife, Shelly, media reports said.
Shelly Sterling, who owns the team with her husband through a family trust, would then negotiate a sale if she were allowed to retain a minority stake, which could be worth more than $1 billion.
The proposal was given little chance of succeeding by people familiar with the NBA's constitution and procedures.
The league requires any change in "controlling" ownership to be approved by its board of governors, made up of one representative from each of the 30 teams. The governors have not voted on a transfer between the Sterlings, and the league has indicated it doesn't want any Sterling to own any part of the team.
NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement that the league was continuing its efforts to terminate the Sterlings' ownership. The statement did not address whether the league had been in discussions with them. "We … are proceeding toward a hearing on this matter on June 3," Bass said.
Donald Sterling's lawyer, Maxwell M. Blecher, did not return a message from the New York Times seeking comment.
Sterling, 80, was barred from the league for life last month for making racist remarks, and he appeared to be girding himself for a fight as the league sought to terminate his ownership. He declined to pay a $2.5 million fine imposed by commissioner Adam Silver, and his lawyer sent the league a letter last week threatening legal action.
The NBA leveled formal charges against Sterling on Monday, a little more than three weeks after celebrity news website tmz.com posted an audio recording of him making the comments. Under the league's constitution, he must respond by Tuesday and can then make his case to his fellow owners at the June 3 hearing.
A vote of three-fourths of the owners is required to force him to sell his franchise, and Silver appears to have broad support for such a measure.
The intrafamily transfer could be just a maneuver by the Sterlings to judge the league's reaction, trying to determine whether Silver would accept anything short of a forced sale, said an attorney who specializes in pro sports transactions.
"The commissioner said he did not want to turn this dispute into a protracted situation," said Irwin Raij, a lawyer who advised Guggenheim Baseball Management in its 2012 purchase of the Dodgers. "And this is (the Sterlings') way to say, 'We got your point. We are throwing an idea against the wall to get some reaction to it.' "
The NBA stated in its formal charges that Sterling and his wife had signed several contracts with the league, including one in 2005 in which they agreed that the full ownership interest of both could be terminated if just one of them broke league rules.
The league said any continuing interest of Shelly Sterling would give the appearance that her husband continued to own the team. In addition, NBA lawyers said, California's community property laws would effectively give Donald Sterling a half-interest in whatever portion of the Clippers remained in his wife's hands.