New ESPN Report Reveals More Details in Donald Sterling Controversy

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New ESPN Report Reveals More Details in Donald Sterling Controversy
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

As we knew would be the case, the story of Clippers owner Donald Sterling's fall was bound to include the revelation of all kinds of new information. We're learning more about how and why the tapes were released and how Sterling planned to respond to the leak.

ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne has delivered a comprehensive report detailing the saga. The first big takeaway is that Sterling was indeed aware that his conversations with cohort V. Stiviano were frequently recorded:

[Stiviano] told [NBA investigators] that Sterling knew he was being recorded and that they often taped conversations because Sterling, who sources say has been battling cancer in recent years, forgets things, and explained that part of her job was to help coach him on his image. On one of the tapes, a third person is heard in the background. The NBA also interviewed that third person before Silver made his ruling Tuesday, a fact that could be important later if the legality of the tapes is questioned.

That should put to rest some criticisms that Stiviano deliberately baited Sterling into this particular recording. Apparently it was standard operating procedure. That's consistent with claims made by Stiviano's attorney that she was "devastated" by the release of the tapes and "saddened" that Sterling was subsequently banned from the NBA for life.

Shelburne also reports that the tapes surfaced on the heels of a lawsuit brought by Sterling's wife, Shelly, against Stiviano:

Sterling lavished gifts on Stiviano over their four-year relationship, including a 2013 Range Rover, a 2012 Ferrari and two Bentleys. He paid her rent. He bought her jewelry. And, on March 7 of this year, Sterling's wife, Shelly Sterling, sued her to get it all back. 

Stiviano lawyered up. Her attorneys filed a response to the civil suit, asking that the case be dismissed on April 21. Instead, Shelly Sterling's attorneys requested that Stiviano turn over all tapes and recordings made of herself and Sterling. The law compelled her to do so. 

Four days later, the tapes surfaced publicly on TMZ.

That still doesn't clarify exactly who released the tapes. According to the Los Angeles TimesHarriet Ryan, Stiviano's attorney has a clue as to who released them but isn't going public with it: "He said he and his client 'have an idea' of who released it, but he declined to identify that person."

The attorney went on to say, "Someone released it for money." 

The fallout from Sterling's racist rant has included widespread condemnation and swift punishment by the NBA that includes a lifetime ban from NBA activities, a $2.5 million fine and a vote by owners to force Sterling into selling the team.

Now the big remaining question is how Sterling will react. 

At the time the taped conversation was revealed, Clippers team president Andy Roeser worked with an outside consultant to think through how the organization should handle the emerging crisis. According to Shelburne:

They discussed and weighed three different messages. The first was to cop to everything. Say that Sterling was sick, that he needed help, that he apologized and felt terrible for offending anyone. The second was to dispute the veracity of the tapes, question the motives of the woman on the tapes and why they were released, and argue that what's said on them misrepresents Sterling's true feelings. The third was to say very little except that the team would cooperate with the NBA investigation. Roeser felt the third message was the best option. Sterling did not. They went with defiance, and they stuck Roeser's name on it.

So for anyone who questioned how the Clippers initially handled this, it appears that Sterling was the driving force behind the notion that this wasn't the real Sterling, that the tapes may represent ulterior motives and so forth.

Shelburne writes that leading up to the ban, "Sterling never seemed to fully understand that the walls were caving in on him."

He almost certainly understands that now.

And that understanding will only be reinforced when the league's owners vote to have the Clippers taken away and sold. According to ESPN.com, "Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive anticipates that his fellow NBA owners will vote unanimously to force Donald Sterling to sell the Los Angeles Clippers."

From there, the Clippers will truly embark upon a new beginning. With everyone from entertainment mogul David Geffen to Magic Johnson's ownership group interested in a shot at owning the team, the franchise should be in good hands soon enough.

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