ABC News Exclusive: Shelly Sterling: I Think Donald Sterling Has 'Onset of Dementia'

Sterling's estranged wife says he doesn't remember saying racist remarks.

ByABC News
May 11, 2014, 5:26 PM

May 11, 2014 — -- Shelly Sterling said today she doesn't think Donald Sterling is a racist, but she believes her estranged husband is in the "onset of dementia."

"I -- in my opinion, I think he -- it's the onset of dementia," Shelly Sterling told ABC News' Barbara Walters today in an exclusive interview.

Sterling told Walters her husband said, "I don't remember saying that. I don't remember ever saying those things," after hearing the audiotape of him telling V. Stiviano not to promote her relationship with black people and not to bring them to Los Angeles Clippers games.

"I said, 'Well, this is the tape.' And he says, 'Hmm. I don't remember it,'" she added. "That's when I thought he had dementia."

She said she never heard him say derogatory things toward black or Hispanic people before she heard the tape, but she did not blame the incident on dementia.

Related: NBA Bans Clippers Owner Donald Sterling For Life

Sterling, herself accused of making inflammatory remarks toward other races in the past, said she's never said any racist remarks either.

"I'm not a racist," she said. "I've never been a racist."

Sterling said that if the NBA tries to force her to sell her half of the Clippers, she would "absolutely" fight to keep her stake in the team.

The league announced Friday that former Citigroup chairman and current Time Warner chairman Richard Parsons has been named interim CEO of the team, but nothing concrete in terms of ownership or whether Shelly Sterling will be forced to sell her share of the team.

"I don't love him. I pity him and I feel sorry for him" - Shelly Sterling

"I will fight that decision," she told Walters. "To be honest with you, I'm wondering if a wife of one of the owners, and there's 30 owners, did something like that, said those racial slurs, would they oust the husband? Or would they leave the husband in?"

Read: Barbara Walters' Exclusive Interview With V. Stiviano

Walters questioned whether Sterling plans to file for divorce from her estranged husband.

"For the last 20 years, I've been seeing attorneys for a divorce," she said, laughing. "In fact, I have here-- I just filed-- I was going to file the petition. I signed the petition for a divorce. And it came to almost being filed. And then, my financial advisor and my attorney said to me, 'Not now.'"

Shelly Sterling added that she thinks the stalling of the divorce stems from "financial arrangements."

But she said, "Eventually, I'm going to."

Read: What You Need to Know This Week About Donald Sterling

This comes after 60 years of marriage, during which time her husband "was really not around a lot" and was "emotionally abusive and verbally abusive," Shelly Sterling said. In terms of physical abuse: "There were a few incidents, but nothing of great magnitude," she said.

"I don't love him. I pity him and I feel sorry for him," she said.

Shelly Sterling also said that when their son Scott died recently, she had to cope with the loss without her husband, who had left the house days earlier following an altercation the couple had.

"He was a very loving, gentle, kind kid," she said of her son. "He was like a bird. And, you know, he's in a better place now."

Sterling said that as her children got older, they would tell her, "Mom, you gotta leave him. You gotta leave him."

"And I said, 'Well, I will. I will one day,'" she added.

ABC News contacted Donald Sterling for comment on his wife's interview, but he declined. He later spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper, saying he made a "terrible, terrible mistake."

"The reason it's hard for me, very hard for me, is that I'm wrong. I caused the problem. I don't know how to correct it," Sterling told CNN.