May 13 (Bloomberg) -- The interim chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Clippers says he thinks the National Basketball Association will prevail in its efforts to force owner Donald Sterling to sell the team.
The comments by Dick Parsons came as Sterling apologized for the racially derogatory comments that got him banned for life from the NBA, and as Sterling’s wife and the league publicly argued over whether she has the right to keep the team.
Parsons, a former Citigroup Inc. chairman and Time Warner CEO selected last week by the NBA to serve as interim CEO of the Clippers, said in a news conference yesterday that he thinks “a prolonged legal battle is in no one’s interest.”
“Part of my job will be to tell the folks here to stay focused on the business,” Parsons said in a news conference at Staples Center, the Clippers’ home court. “Ultimately, there will be a change of ownership and management.”
With the NBA’s other 29 franchise owners preparing to vote over whether to force 80-year-old Sterling to sell the Clippers, he gave his first public interview over the weekend to CNN, saying he was a “good member who made a mistake.”
“I’m apologizing and asking for forgiveness,” Sterling said, according to a transcript of his interview on the Time Warner Inc. network’s AC360 show. “Am I entitled to one mistake? Am I, after 35 years? 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.”
Sterling, a real-estate billionaire who bought the Clippers in 1981, told a female in audio that was posted on the website TMZ on April 25 that he didn’t want her bringing black people to his team’s games and that he didn’t approve of her posting a photo with Hall of Famer Magic Johnson to Instagram.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling four days later, fined him $2.5 million and said he’d urge the other owners to force him to sell.
Everyone from the game’s top stars to U.S. President Barack Obama condemned Sterling for his comments and the players’ union said it would have boycotted playoff games had the league not acted so strongly.
Sterling’s wife, Shelly, is an alternate governor and a co-owner of the Clippers. The union, as well as LeBron James of the Miami Heat, said it wouldn’t be acceptable for any member of Sterling’s family to remain in control of the team.
Asked if there is a path to fight before being forced to sell, Sterling said, “Of course, but if you fight with my partner, what, at the end of the road, do I benefit, especially at my age?”
“If they fight with me and they spend millions, let’s say I win or they win, I just don’t know if that’s important,” Sterling said, according to the transcript.
The NBA and Shelly Sterling were less cryptic about their desires. After she expressed plans to try to keep the team, the NBA issued a statement.
“Under the NBA Constitution, if a controlling owner’s interest is terminated by a 3/4 vote, all other team owners’ interests are automatically terminated as well,” Mike Bass, a spokesman for the league, said in a statement. “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.”
Shelly Sterling’s lawyer, Pierce O’Donnell, then responded to the NBA’s statement.
“We do not agree with the league’s self-serving interpretation of its constitution, its application to Shelly Sterling or its validity under these unique circumstances,” O’Donnell said in an e-mailed statement. “We live in a nation of laws. California law and the United States Constitution trump any such interpretation.”
Several groups have said they would be interested in purchasing the Clippers, who are tied 2-2 in a best-of-seven game Western Conference playoff semifinal with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Johnson, a one-time minority owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and a part owner of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers, is among those interested in buying the Clippers.
Sterling, saying that it took him two weeks to speak publicly about his comments because he is “emotionally distraught,” added that he spoke with Johnson twice since the audio was released.
“If I said anything wrong, I’m sorry,” Sterling responded when asked if he apologized to Johnson. “He’s a good person, I mean what else am I going to say? Has he done everything he can do to help minorities? I don’t think so. But I’ll say it, he’s great. But I don’t think he’s a good example for the children of Los Angeles.”
The Clippers, which Sterling bought for about $12 million, are now worth more than the $550 million paid for the Milwaukee Bucks last month, according to Rob Tilliss, founder of Inner Circle Sports, which represented Apollo Global Management LLC co-founder Joshua Harris in his purchase of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers.
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