(CNN) — Los Angeles Clippers co-owner Shelly Sterling is “moving quickly” to sell the embattled NBA franchise, with a source familiar with the situation saying she and her representatives would like to make a deal this week.
The recent activity, including talks with several high-profile potential suitors for the team, comes as Sterling’s estranged husband, Donald, faces a midnight Tuesday deadline to respond to the NBA’s proposal to terminate his ownership in the team. And on June 3, the NBA’s Board of Governors is set to vote on whether to force the Sterlings to sell.
“This looks like the Sterlings are throwing in the towel on any sort of legal fight,” said CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. “They are recognizing that their choice is to sell now or sell later.”
Commissioner Adam Silver is “very much involved” in Shelly Sterling’s dealings with potential buyers, according to the source.
About one month ago, Silver banned Donald Sterling for life and ordered him pay a $2.5 million fine after racist remarks by the Clippers’ controlling owner surfaced online. A source close to the situation said roughly two weeks ago that Donald Sterling — who repeatedly denied he’s a racist in a CNN interview — wouldn’t pay the fine, would reject the ban and might sue the NBA.
As of 2:45 p.m. ET Tuesday, Sterling still hadn’t responded to the NBA’s charges against him, nor had he paid the $2.5 million fine, a well-placed source said.
Yet the same source indicated Shelly Sterling met this Sunday with a group headlined by former NBA star Grant Hill to discuss the sale of the Clippers.
In addition, the source familiar with the situation said that she met over the weekend at her Malibu, California, home with ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who made an aggressive offer for the franchise.
Shelly Sterling is interested in fielding offers from billionaire businessman Patrick Soon-Shiong; Hill’s group; entertainment mogul David Geffen and Oracle founder Larry Ellison; and entrepreneur Magic Johnson and the Guggenheim Partners, which two years ago teamed up to buy baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers.
Johnson has been at the center of this story from the outset because of controversial banter between 80-year-old Donald Sterling and his former companion V. Stiviano. After TMZ first reported those comments, Donald Sterling lashed out at Johnson in a CNN interview, questioning whether someone who contracted HIV should be considered a role model and asking rhetorically “what has he done” for the African-American community.
For his part, Johnson called the whole situation “sad” in his own interview with CNN, in which he urged Sterling to sell the team. The former Los Angeles Laker said that if that happens — and if his Guggenheim partners are interested — “We’ll make a run for it.”
One person who apparently won’t be the NBA franchise’s next owner is media tycoon Oprah Winfrey. Despite much buzz in recent weeks, the source familiar with the situation says that Winfrey is “out of the running.”
The same source said that Shelly Sterling will accept offers this week for the Clippers.
Both her lawyer and the NBA offered no comment to CNN’s questions Tuesday about this new information.
The Sterlings have been publicly defiant since the story broke, challenging the NBA and its right to force the Clippers’ sale.
Yet the situation took a turn late last week, when the Sterlings agreed that Shelly would try to sell the NBA franchise voluntarily even as the league prepares a vote on a forced sale. The couple own the team through a trust.
Shelly Sterling previously had said she wanted to own at least part of the franchise, but doesn’t want to be a controlling partner. But if it sold — likely for between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, according to the well-placed source — the NBA doesn’t want either Sterling to have any ownership stake.
Still, they could take solace in the dizzying profit they’d make from such a deal; Donald Sterling reportedly bought the franchise in 1981 for about $12 million.
“For a guy who did something wrong,” CNN’s Toobin said of a potential sale, “this is a pretty sweet conclusion.”
CNN’s Rosalina Nieves, Jill Martin and Michael Martinez contributed to this report.
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