LOS ANGELES — For all the focus on prejudice these days, it's time to take a closer look at guilt by association.
The NBA has been, and must continue to be, vigilant in its directive to begin a completely new regime for the Los Angeles Clippers, and getting into business with Shelly Sterling, both Donald's wife and longtime business partner, is hardly the way to do it.
The idea that Donald is surrendering now and just wants Shelly to sell the team so she can handle negotiations herself is a pretty picture, to be sure. Everyone would love for a sale to happen as soon as possible to put Donald Sterling in the past, and it would be great for Clippers fans' confidence about free agents signing as soon as this summer.
Shelly willingly turning over the Clippers to a new ownership group tomorrow is the best-case scenario.
But the NBA can't possibly be that naive.
First, Shelly Sterling has always been opposed to giving up her ownership. Her very public campaigning to keep the Clippers and sob stories to ABC's Barbara Walters as if she is an innocent victim made it clear she has plans of her own.
Besides the video of her posing as a health inspector to enter and allegedly harass the Sterlings' minority apartment tenants, Shelly's lawsuit against V. Stiviano wasn't her first against one of Donald's mistresses in an attempt to protect her share.
Because Donald is the controlling owner, the NBA would have to approve Shelly becoming the new controlling owner. Why the league would do that—and open itself up to a world of complications wherein Shelly could decide not to sell entirely or even drag the team into divorce court—is hard to fathom.
It was clear from the beginning how much the Sterlings would benefit from dodging perhaps $400 million in capital gains taxes that would kick in from a direct sale of the team—and the obvious way to dodge them would be, as sports consultant Robert Raiola told Michael McCann of SI.com, to delay long enough that he dies and can pass team ownership to his heirs.
Sterling is 80 and has had prostate cancer for about two years, according to the New York Post. If his heirs inherited his shares and then sold, no one would ever be taxed using Sterling's original $12.5 million purchase price for the Clippers in 1981.
There are far too many reasons for Shelly to throw wrenches in—far more reasons than she has to streamline the machinery that would end her and her husband's involvement with the Clippers.
The NBA issued a statement Friday regarding the potential that Donald Sterling would pass over controlling ownership: "We continue to follow the process set forth in the NBA Constitution regarding termination of the current ownership interests in the Los Angeles Clippers and are proceeding toward a hearing on this matter on June 3."
From a gut-feel perspective—and NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been trusting his gut and his fellow lawyers and researchers—just stop and think about this: If Donald really does trust Shelly enough to sell his team for him, that should speak to how closely aligned husband and wife still are.
The Clippers are going to be a 2015 NBA championship contender, perhaps one of the favorites. Let's look closely at Shelly's original statement about planning to retain ownership:
"I have been co-owner since 1981. During those 33 years, I have been a diehard fan even when the team was in the basement of the league. Now that all of our hard work is paying off, I want to celebrate the success that we are finally achieving."
You believe this person wants to expedite her sale of the Clippers to make sure she doesn't own the team when it is possibly crowned champion a year from now?
It should be completely transparent that Shelly is trying to get some control for herself over this process, whether her motivation is to delay or ensure she retains some ownership stake.
This is an ugly situation that no one should expect to turn pretty.
So Shelly absolutely can frame it to Silver with eye-catching wrapping paper and a nice bow: A little Shelly for a little while is a lot better than a long, epic war with Donald, right?
That gift, coming from the wife rightly disgraced by association, is definitely too good to be true.
Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.
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