Could a Sterling Divorce Allow Shelly Sterling to Keep the Clippers?

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In an interview with Anderson Cooper this week, Donald Sterling said that his wife of fifty years, Shelly Sterling, is divorcing him. In fact, USA Today reports that Mrs. Sterling has indeed signed divorce papers, but she has not actually filed them — in part because those divorce papers could now become the key piece of leverage in the Sterlings' fight against the NBA.

In the CNN interview, Sterling also said that he would like his wife to keep her half of the team. "If for some reason I can't have the team, I think she should have her interest," he said. "I mean, she didn't do anything. I brought this all on her."

While Shelly Sterling is herself coming under major fire as a potential owner of the team, she may have a legal claim. Currently, the Clippers are owned by the Sterling Family Trust. The California state laws which govern this trust offer her 50 percent ownership in the team. If the divorce moves quickly, the divorce settlement could move full ownership of the Clippers to Shelly. That would then call into question whether the NBA has the right to vote her out as well, since it could be argued that the ex-husband's, and ex-owner's, violation of the NBA constitution would not apply to Shelly. If the divorce doesn't go quickly, it could tie up the ownership question in the California court system, complicating the NBA's attempts to seize and sell the team even further. 

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While NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has not made any statements about Shelly taking ownership of the team, NBA spokesperson Mike Bass issued a statement this past Sunday:  

"Under the NBA constitution, if a controlling owner's interest is terminated by a three-quarter 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."

The potential divorce is adding another layer to what is already looking to be to be the biggest legal battle in NBA history. Shelly has also accused the NBA of being sexist, arguing that she is standing trial for her husband (soon to be ex husband's) mistakes.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.