Donald Sterling reportedly deemed ‘mentally incapacitated’ before sale of Los Angeles Clippers


Donald Sterling in 2011. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

Donald Sterling was reportedly recently ruled “mentally incapacitated” by experts, a move that cleared the path for his wife Shelly to sell the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and other news outlets.

The determination of “incapacitated” was made on behalf of the family trust that owns the Clippers and it was not known what definition, expertise or authority its lawyers employed in getting the finding, which under its bylaws appears to cut Sterling out of any decision-making role.

The Washington Post could not independently verify the stories. Sterling’s lawyer, Max Blecher, did not return calls and e-mails seeking a response.

On Thursday night, Shelly Sterling signed a binding contract with Ballmer for the sale of the Clippers, according to a release by attorneys involved in the deal. According to Shelburne, it’s doubtful that any action Sterling takes on his own could derail the sale.

With the deal in place, the Sterlings will likely avoid being forced to sell the team by the NBA, a fate both parties are keen to avoid. The league had scheduled a meeting of its board of governors for June 3 with the intention of stripping Sterling of his ownership. However, Sterling signed over his ownership and authorized Shelly to negotiate a sale of the team, which was held in the Sterling family trust, a move the NBA approved. Once Donald was deemed mentally unfit to make decisions, Shelly became its sole trustee. Now, it appears the June 3 meeting will likely be postponed. Wrote Sports Illustrated’s Michael McCann:

The NBA postponing Tuesday’s hearing and then reviewing a bid to purchase the Clippers would be an extraordinary development. The NBA normally takes several months to approve the purchase of a team, as detailed background checks on every bidder in a group are conducted. To be clear, the NBA would not grant final approval of a Clippers sale before next Tuesday. It would only agree to postpone a hearing to oust Sterling until it can approve or reject his agreement to sell the Clippers. If the NBA ultimately rejects the agreement, Sterling’s hearing would be rescheduled and he would again face ouster from the NBA. The NBA is determined to resolve the Clippers ownership before the start of the 2014-15 season.

The fact that Ballmer was able to buy the team outright, rather than with a group of investors, will make the vetting process smoother. The other bids Shelly entertained were from groups, including one comprised of Larry Ellison, Oprah Winfrey, David Geffen and Laurene Powell (Steve Jobs’s widow). Darren Rovell confirmed, via Geffen, that they withdrew their bid of $1.6 billion. SB Nation reports the other serious bid, for $1.2 billion, came from a group led by retired NBA All-Star Grant Hill. That group included investors Tony Ressler and Bruce Karsh.

The $2 billion deal makes the Clippers the priciest team in NBA history, followed by the sale of the Milwaukee Bucks for $550 million earlier this year. Donald Sterling paid roughly $12 million for the Clippers when he bought the team in 1981. That’s equivalent to about $35 million in today’s dollars so, even with a capital gains hit, the Sterlings will pocket quite the hefty profit.

USA Today also reported that Sterling had been found mentally unfit.

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Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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