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USA TODAY

He is going to fight, then he's not going to fight.

He's going to sue, then he's not going to sue.

Now, Donald Sterling is going to fight and sue the NBA, Commissioner Adam Silver and his wife, Shelly Sterling.

Until he decides he's not going to do that. Which could be tomorrow, the day after or next week.

From the onset of the audio release of Sterling's racially insensitive comments, it has been repeated that he is a fighter and embraces litigation.

His decision -- for now -- to fight the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion -- a deal brokered by Shelly Sterling in a coup that appeared to bring a quick resolution to an ugly situation -- is another trick play in Sterling's keep-'em-guessing legal playbook.

As confident and assured as Silver has been since the Sterling scandal threw the NBA into its biggest crisis since the Tim Donaghy officiating disgrace, Silver unintentionally might have provoked Sterling into another one of his never-ending last stands with comments Silver made to news reporters Sunday.

Before Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Silver answered several questions about Sterling.

Silver said he was confident Sterling's lawsuit against him and the NBA would be resolved and added, "Donald is suing himself, and he knows that. While I understand he is frustrated, I think it's over. I think it's just a matter of time now."

Silver also reiterated that Sterling's lifetime ban would not be dropped and his $2.5 million fine would not be rescinded.

To Sterling, those were fighting words, so the fight is back on. It gave him ammunition, and, even if Sterling knows deep down he can't stop the sale, a couple of salvos on the way out shouldn't be surprising.

"There's no particular method to the madness, other than fighting for what he believes," sports law expert Warren K. Zola said.

It is expected that Sterling's attorney will file a complaint against Shelly Sterling to stop the sale.

Today, Shelly Sterling will ask a California probate court to verify she has authority to sell the team. She will claim that she has the right to sell because she was given sole authority of the trust when it was determined Donald Sterling does not have the capacity to manage the affairs of the trust.

Should Donald Sterling prevail and stop the voluntary sale, the NBA will reschedule its special hearing to terminate the Sterlings' ownership of the Clippers, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the sensitive nature of the situation.

Even though Shelly Sterling's agreement with the NBA indemnified the league, Silver wants Sterling to drop the suit and agree with his wife on the terms of the deal. It is careening into the sideshow the NBA wanted to avoid and, for the most part, thought it had avoided.

"Initially there was a communication from Donald Sterling's representatives that they intended to sign an agreement, but obviously I can't hold them to that," Silver said. "So, yes, it's the indemnification agreement but also discussions I have had with Shelly, where she has a high degree of confidence that this will be worked out between her and Donald."

In the big picture, what's most important to the NBA? That the Sterlings sell the Clippers, not the lifetime ban or the fine. The latter two ultimately are inconsequential to the NBA but important to Sterling on a matter of principle.

The fine is a simple transaction for someone with Sterling's wealth, and the ban ultimately is unnecessary. Sterling isn't welcome in any NBA arena.

Maybe Sterling thinks he can restore some of his reputation if the fine and ban are rescinded. Perhaps he thought that happened when the NBA released a statement saying, "The NBA, Shelly Sterling and the Sterling Family Trust today resolved their dispute over the ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers."

But Silver said Sunday that the ban and fine remain in place, and NBA spokesman Mike Bass reiterated that Monday. That won't change. Silver and the NBA attorneys won't do anything to jeopardize their case against Sterling.

But if Sterling would agree to drop his suits and sign the paperwork, that would put the NBA in the clear and perhaps the fine and ban would be forgotten.

Sterling is trying to drag it out, but Zola is skeptical that Sterling will win -- aside from selling for $2 billion a team he bought for $12.5 million in the early 1980s.

Zola repeatedly has said the courts are not inclined to get involved with the operations of private businesses governed by a constitution and bylaws determined by the key operators.

From the day Silver announced he wanted the Sterlings to sell the team, signs have pointed in the NBA's favor.

"I'm dubious of the outcome, because Sterling's claim is no stronger today than it was two weeks ago," Zola said.

So in the meantime, Sterling fights. Until he doesn't.

 

June 11, 2014

 

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