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Bad Donald is back: Sterling responds to the NBA's charges

When Donald Sterling gave control of the sale of the Clippers to his wife Shelly last week it seemed like a rational and reasonable decision on his part -- which made no sense for DTS. Now he says he'll fight, like the Donald we know and loathe.

Stephen Dunn

Now this is more like it. This is the Donald Sterling I know and loathe. Last week's decision to allow his estranged wife Shelly to negotiate a sale of the Los Angeles Clippers seemed far too rational and self-aware-- two things he does poorly if at all. He's much better at irrational and tone-deaf.

Little did I know that DTS was just setting us up for one of his specialties -- the incredibly irrational decision that only achieves the dizzying heights of the truly bizarre because it completely contradicts his immediately previous decision.

We've seen this before from Sterling. In 2010, the Clippers seemed to reach an amicable end to Mike Dunleavy's term on the bench when Dunleavy resigned as head coach. MDsr would focus on his general manager duties, assistant Kim Hughes would be the interim head coach, and the whole thing was handled in a calm and professional manner.

Just 34 days later, completely out of the blue, Dunleavy was fired as general manager -- during halftime of a game. Sterling would then refuse to pay Dunleavy the money he owed him, forcing Dunleavy to take him to arbitration (not the first time a Clippers coach has had to use legal means to convince Sterling to fulfill his contractual obligations) -- all in the midst of the free agency courtship of LeBron James. This is the genius of Donald Sterling's grotesquery. If he just fires Dunleavy it's no big deal. Only by appearing to reach a mutually beneficial and reasonable new stage in the relationship can his subsequent behavior have the real "WTF?" impact that he seems to crave.

In his current imbroglio with the NBA, everyone expected Sterling to take a scorched earth approach. Famously litigious in every aspect of his life, there was no way that Sterling would give up the crown jewel of his little LA empire without a fight. Even if he had little chance of winning, it simply wasn't in his nature to walk away. He would make the process as painful as possible for every involved. Sure it would cost him a lot of money and drive his reputation in LA to ever deeper depths of ostracism, and he had little chance of winning in the end, but at least he'd inflict some pain on the way down.

So when the story broke that Shelly Sterling was negotiating a quick sale of the team -- with Donald's blessing -- it all seemed so un-Sterling. It was the rational and logical thing to do -- and that made absolutely no sense.

It was all just part of the old switcheroo. Yelling fire in a crowded theater creates one layer of chaos. Yelling fire in a crowded theater moments at the conclusion of a lecture on fire safety and personal responsibility? It takes a true visionary to come up with this shit.

How does Sterling and his legal team reconcile the contradictory decisions just days apart? Pretty much they don't. "Oh that document he signed last week? He changed his mind. Just kidding."

The arguments made by Sterling's legal team in response to the NBA's charges may seem somewhat valid at first glance. For instance, if the recording was made without his consent (which is not clear by the way), how could it be admissible as evidence in a trial? But there's one very important factor to bear in mind here -- Sterling isn't being accused of committing a crime nor being tried by the NBA. He's accused by a private entity to which he belongs of breaking his contractual obligations to that entity. The legality of the recording is, as far as i can tell, completely irrelevant. The NBA only needs to show that Sterling's actions harmed the league -- which it's clear to anyone that they did. If Sterling's argument were "I didn't say those things" it might be one thing. But to argue on legal grounds -- the recording was obtained illegally, there was no due process, etc. -- is a non-starter. No one cares about those things in the question of the NBA's proceedings against Donald Sterling. As far as the NBA is concerned, this process has to do with the NBA Constitution, and those are the only constitutional rights that matter to them. If Sterling's rights under the US Constitution were violated in the release of the recording, that's somebody else's problem -- the NBA didn't release the recording, they're just reacting to the aftermath.

Donald and Shelly appear at this point to be proceeding down two different paths -- and whereas last week I wasn't clear on what Shelly's motivation might have been, it's more clear at this point. Shelly and her team are trying to line up offers for the team as soon as possible -- to get this sale done before Donald has the chance to do too much damage. The value of the team is incredibly high, and a protracted lawsuit concerning ownership can only hurt the valuation. Not to mention that with a divorce in the offing, Donald would be spending Shelly's money on legal fees. A sale of the team before Donald can make too big of a mess of everything would be in everyone's interests, including Shelly's -- and she and her team are proceeding on the basis of the agreement they received last week to negotiate a sale.

But the good news / bad news for longtime Clipper watchers is that Donald is back to his old self. That rational, reasonable guy that signed away his say in the outcome was disorienting to many people. With Donald acting like an idiot and threatening to sue anyone and everyone involved in this case while completing disavowing his actions from just days ago, everything is back to normal.