Judge rules Shelly Sterling has authority to sell Los Angeles Clippers to Steve Ballmer

The NBA’s nearly four-month saga involving the Los Angeles Clippers and former owner Donald Sterling didn’t completely come to an end on Monday, but the path was cleared for the team finally to be sold to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for a record $2 billion.

A California judge issued a preliminary ruling that Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly, had the authority to reach an agreement with Ballmer on the sale of the franchise. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas will review objections before issuing a written ruling but included a provision in California anti-trust law that would allow the deal to be completed “as if no appeal were pending.”

“We are pleased that the court has affirmed Shelly Sterling's right to sell the Los Angeles Clippers to Steve Ballmer,” Mike Bass, the NBA executive vice president of communications, said in a statement issued by the league. “We look forward to the transaction closing as soon as possible.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Donald Sterling for life and issued a $2.5 million fine in late April after the 80-year-old billionaire was recorded during a racist rant. League owners were prepared to oust Sterling by vote until Shelly Sterling had her estranged husband examined by two doctors. They determined that he was mentally incapacitated and subsequently had him removed as co-trustee of the Sterling Family Trust.

Shelly, Sterling’s wife of 58 years, then reached an agreement with Ballmer that Sterling initially supported. Later, however, he backtracked, refused to sign and claimed that he had been duped. Donald Sterling then revoked the trust and filed lawsuits against his wife, Silver and the NBA. Sterling is expected to appeal Monday’s decision and vowed during the three-week, non-jury trial that he would “never, ever sell” the team that he purchased for $12 million in 1981.


With her attorney Pierce O'Donnell, right, Shelly Sterling, center, talks to reporters after a judge ruled in her favor and against her estranged husband, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, in his attempt to block the $2 billion sale of the team. (Nick Ut/AP)

He vowed to fight the NBA in court until the day he dies.

Sterling’s desire to remain an owner of a team in a league that no longer wanted him and that he claimed was corrupt was one of the more bizarre aspects of the case. But he also did himself few favors during the court proceedings as he blasted the NBA and called his wife a “pig” a day after testifying that he loved her.

Shelly Sterling’s attorneys argued that the sale should be allowed because the team might not ever be sold at such a high price again. Ballmer had set an Aug. 15 deadline to complete the deal.

“The trust has a golden bird in the hand,” Shelly Sterling’s lawyers wrote in court papers. “A sale of the Clippers for $2 billion is indisputably a bonanza for the Sterling family. Donald’s strident opposition is motivated by only selfish considerations.”

Donald Sterling said he could get more for the team by also selling TV rights and through his $9 billion suit against the league.

As the situation continued to drag on, Clippers players threatened to sit out and current Clippers interim CEO Donald Parsons said during the court proceedings that team president and Coach Doc Rivers would resign if Sterling’s ownership was prolonged until the start of the season.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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