By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver said on Tuesday he would prefer to let Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling sell his team "on a reasonable timetable" rather than proceed with trying to forcibly terminate his ownership.
The comments from Silver, signaling a willingness to strike a deal to avoid a showdown in his efforts to oust Sterling, came a day after the league formally charged that racist comments by Sterling have so seriously damaged the league that he should be removed.
The league has given Sterling until May 27 to respond to its charge and invited him to appear at a special hearing before the NBA Board of Governors set for June 3, after which the league's 29 other owners who make up the board could vote to strip him of his team.
Sterling, 80, who has owned the Clippers for 33 years, came under fire more than three weeks ago when TMZ.com posted an audio recording of him berating a female friend for publicly associating with black people, including former NBA great Earvin "Magic" Johnson.
The recording sparked an uproar from fans, NBA players and commercial sponsors. The furor led Silver to ban Sterling for life from the NBA and to call on the other owners to force a sale of the Clippers.
Under the NBA constitution and bylaws, Silver needs to muster at least a three-fourth's majority vote to terminate Sterling from the franchise. Silver's lawyer has threatened to fight any such action in court.
Asked at a news conference in New York whether he would consider trying to hash out a deal "man-to-man" to avert a confrontation, Silver noted that for the time being, the Clippers still belong to Sterling and his estranged wife, Shelly, a 50-percent owner though a family trust.
"It is their team to sell, and so he knows what the league's point of view is, and so I'm sure if he wanted to sell the team on some reasonable timetable, I'd prefer he sell it than we go through this process," Silver said. "So if that's what you mean by man-to-man, I'm open to that."
Neither the Sterlings nor their attorneys were immediately available to comment on Silver's latest remarks.
Several luminaries from sports and show business, including television host turned media mogul Oprah Winfrey and Hollywood executive David Geffen, have already signaled an interest in buying the Clippers if the team were put up for sale.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Ken Wills)