LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has surrendered control of the NBA club to his estranged wife Shelly, who is in talks with the league to sell the team, according to media reports Friday.
Celebrity gossip website TMZ reported Sterling, banned for life from the NBA this month by league commissioner Adam Silver for racist comments that have damaged the league, realised the league would force him to sell eventually, citing unnamed sources close to the Clippers organisation.
The move would allow Shelly Sterling and her attorneys to control some terms of the sale, as she was not banned by the league.
TMZ reported Shelly Sterling, who has a secondary ownership stake in the Clippers, is prepared to sue the NBA if the league orders an involuntary sale of the team.
"Shelly Sterling's preference has always been to find a way to resolve this dispute amicably with the NBA in a mutually satisfactory manner," TMZ quoted Shelly Sterling attorney Pierce O'Donnell as saying.
ESPN reported that Shelly Sterling was in talks with the league to orchestrate a sale.
The league has said that while it has no ban on Shelly Sterling, her ownership stake would be terminated if her husband is tossed out as the Clippers owner under terms of the franchise agreement Donald Sterling signed when he bought the club for US$12 million (S$15 million) in 1981.
The Clippers are valued at nearly US$600 million by Forbes magazine and could fetch substantially more given the publicity and potential bidders could include Magic Johnson, Oprah Winfrey and unbeaten boxer Floyd Mayweather.
Shelly Sterling has more leverage against Donald Sterling than the league, given the potential for obtaining property in a potential divorce.
While ESPN reported the NBA has not agreed to any Shelly Sterling-orchestrated deal just yet, such a move could produce a quick settlement to the scandal that would give the league faster closer than a potentially messy court trial and enable the Sterlings to profit from the asset of the club, a long-time loser coming off one of the more outstanding regular seasons in team history.
Assessing fair market value for the team could be a sticking point, as a deal would have to satisfy the Sterlings and the league and any new owner would have to be approved by other league club owners not just win a bidding war for the Clippers.
The mess began a month ago when TMZ posted a recording of Donald Sterling saying he did not want his girlfriend bringing black people to Clippers games or posting photos on social media of herselves with black people.
Sterling later apologised, said he had made a "terrible mistake" and the 80-year-old real estate tycoon claimed he was goaded into making the comments as he was trying to seduce the woman, known only as V. Stiviano.