Sterling had been living across the street from the Beverly Hills Hotel since the end of 2012. His wife of six decades, Shelly Sterling, had kicked him out of the Malibu beach house they shared after he started arguing loudly with a mistress over the phone as the family was sitting down for Christmas dinner. The divide between them grew larger when their son Scott died of a drug overdose a week later and Donald didn't come by the house for nearly 24 hours to console her. "He doesn't handle death very well," a family friend says.
Other than a few paid staff walking the halls and an old friend named Lawrence who often stays as a houseguest, Sterling was alone in that Beverly Hills mansion on April 29 when longtime Clippers president Andy Roeser called to tell him Silver had banned him from the NBA. His family was broken, his health was failing. Doctors had been treating him for prostate cancer the past few years.
Sitting courtside, throwing lavish team parties, calling the shots -- everything that made him somebody in this town was in peril. "There's a lot of people that have as much money as he does," one longtime Clippers staffer says. "If he didn't own an NBA team, he'd just be another rich guy in L.A."
Shelly Sterling watched her husband's May 12 interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper from a suite at the New York City Ritz-Carlton overlooking Central Park. She had taped an interview of her own with Barbara Walters the day before, then stayed in the city with her lawyer, Pierce O'Donnell, to discuss her options with the NBA. Until that meeting on May 13, she had been something of a side note in this story -- the NBA informing her lawyers of what it was doing as a courtesy. The league was confident its bylaws gave it the power to terminate Sterling's ownership and sell the franchise. After that meeting, however, NBA officials began to wonder whether Shelly could play a key role in selling the team. It wouldn't be easy. Donald didn't like to sell anything. Ever. "I don't even think he sells his used cars," says Steve Soboroff, a longtime Clippers season-ticket holder and L.A. financier involved in the development of Staples Center.
Shelly had spoken to her husband a few times since the TMZ incident. She even went to dinner with him a few days after the tapes were released, at Roeser's urging, in a last-ditch attempt to persuade Sterling to issue a public apology before Silver's ruling. Although their relationship had greatly deteriorated, Shelly could be civil. Donald was still the man she had married and shared a life with. She had hired divorce attorneys several times, exasperated with his infidelities. But because their business interests were so intertwined, she was advised to just live separate lives.
In the past few years, Shelly and family friends had come to suspect Donald was slipping mentally. He would have bouts of incoherence and forgetfulness. Shelly, on camera, told Walters she suspected he had the onset of dementia. Walters, in private, told her she had noticed similar symptoms when she'd spoken to Sterling a few days before.