Sterling with V. Stiviano at a Clippers game last year.

Sterling with V. Stiviano at a Clippers game last year. Photo: AP

LOS ANGELES: Donald Sterling, the embattled owner of the Los Angeles Clippers banned for life by the NBA after making racist comments, has broken his silence about the scandal.

Online magazine duJour reported on Friday that Sterling said, "I wish I had just paid her off," referring to his girlfriend, identified only as V. Stiviano.

Controversial: Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

Controversial: Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Photo: AFP

The 80-year-old billionaire was speaking with Stiviano on a recording made public last weekend, touching off a firestorm that led NBA commissioner Adam Silver to banish Sterling from the league for life.

On the recording, Sterling said he did not want Stiviano to bring black people to his game and asked her not to post pictures of herself with African Americans on social media websites.

Sterling, a real estate tycoon who bought the NBA team in 1981, is the longest-tenured owner in the league, but fellow team owners have started the process of stripping the team from him.

A 75 per cent vote of the other 29 NBA owners is required to remove the team from Sterling, but the threat could push him to sell the team or take the NBA to court over the matter, potentially setting up a long legal battle.

Sterling, who bought the team for $US12 million ($12.98 million), could sell it for at least $US600 million ($649.18 million), with several celebrities and billionaires having already indicated an interest in owning the Clippers.

Stiviano also broke her silence, telling Barbara Walters in an interview that she doesn't believe the Clippers owner is a racist.

Speaking on US channel ABC's 20/20, Stiviano said Sterling feels alone and isolated after being banned from the NBA over recorded comments in which he tells her not to associate with black people.

When Walters asks Stiviano if Sterling is a racist, she replies: "No, I don't believe it in my heart," according to 20/20.

She noted that Sterling, 50 years her senior, is of a different generation. She didn't take his comments about blacks as being bigoted, according to 20/20.

Still, she said he should apologise for what he said.

Walters said Stiviano had seen Sterling earlier and asked how he was doing.

"I think he feels very alone, not truly supported by those around him. Tormented, emotionally traumatized," she said.

Stiviano said she served as Sterling's "protector" and loved him "like a father".

Stiviano was sued last month by Rochelle Sterling, Donald's wife, who seeks the return of the duplex as well as a Ferrari, two Bentleys and a Range Rover she said her husband bought for Stiviano.

Rochelle Sterling alleges in the lawsuit that her husband met Stiviano at the 2010 Super Bowl in Miami. The suit describes Stiviano as a seductress who targets wealthy older men like the 80-year-old Sterling.

According to property records, Stiviano purchased the duplex in December 2013. But Rochelle Sterling says that she allowed her husband to pay for the house, believing that her name would be on the deed along with his.

Sterling also gave Stiviano $US240,000 for living expenses, according to Rochelle Sterling's lawsuit, amounting to $2 million of community property that he allegedly spent on Stiviano without his wife's knowledge.

In a response to the lawsuit, Stiviano argues that Rochelle Sterling must have known that her husband of more than 50 years had romantic relationships outside of his marriage.

Stiviano's court filing ridicules the notion that the "feminine wiles of Ms. Stiviano overpowered the iron will of Donald T. Sterling who is well known as one of the most shrewd businessmen in the world." Stiviano's papers, however, do not acknowledge that she was in a romantic relationship with Sterling.

AFP/Los Angeles Times