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Shelly Sterling says she wants to maintain ownership of Clippers. That’s a wildcard for NBA.

May 8, 2014, 12:04 AM EST

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Shelly Sterling, Donald Sterling’s wife of 50 years, owns half of the Clippers (thanks to California law). It’s always been a potential complication in the league’s stated goal of forcing a sale.

Especially since she wants to maintain control of the team.

She told the Los Angeles Times she wants to maintain control of the Clippers.

Los Angeles Clippers co-owner Shelly Sterling said Wednesday that she believes she is legally entitled to maintain ownership of the NBA team and will attempt to do so, even as the pro basketball league pushes to remove her husband from the team he has owned for 33 years.

Sterling described her long tenure as a “die-hard” fan of the Clippers and said she believes that the sanctions against Donald Sterling — which included a lifetime ban and $2.5-million fine — do not apply to “me or my family.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said that this is not acceptable, that the family cannot maintain control of the team.

He’s right. She’s just serving as his proxy here.

Shelly is far from clean (although proving it in a legally acceptable way will be more difficult, she has less of a paper trail). The night after the recording of Donald making racist statements went public she had dinner with her husband and yelled “he’s not a racist” at the cameras. She was a partner with Donald in his real estate firm and in the lawsuits brought against him a former employee said Shelly used to pose as a government inspector to take a census of the races in their buildings, and to harass some tenants. She allegedly has used plenty of racist language herself. She is far from clean.

For the league, from a business perspective, the sponsors will not care which Sterling owns the team they will pull out. Same from the players — Doc Rivers found out and he’s not likely to stick around to work for her. Most fans will have the same reaction. The league is moving to wrest control of the team from Sterling’s people, with long-time employee and team president Andy Roeser taking a leave of absence and the owners looking to install a new CEO to oversee the operation.

Reportedly Donald signed ethical contracts with the league, which gives the league solid footing on him in the effort to force a sale. Forcing those on her could prove more problematic. The above instances were in settled cases.

This is how the Sterlings fight. They are not going to easily give up control. They are going to work in concert. Their egos are too wrapped up in owning the team. Plus, if Sterling (who is battling cancer) passes away during before the team is sold the rest of his family could save hundreds of millions on capital gains taxes. They are not going to go quietly.

The league needs to have a real stomach for this fight, because the Sterlings count on bullying you in the courts. The other owners are united, but this is not going to be simple and clean.

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