The National Basketball Association announced today it had resolved questions over the ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers, clearing the way for the team to be sold to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer if the proposed $2 billion deal is approved by the league's Board of Governors.
In light of the agreement, the league has withdrawn its effort to terminate Donald and Shelly Sterling's ownership of the team and canceled Tuesday's planned vote on whether they should be forced to sell the franchise.
"Mrs. Sterling and the Trust also agreed not to sue the NBA and to indemnify the NBA against lawsuits from others, including from Donald Sterling," according to a statement from the league.
It was not immediately clear what effect that agreement would have on Donald Sterling, whose attorney said earlier today the embattled team co-owner plans to file a $1 billion lawsuit against the league, alleging breach of contract and anti-trust and civil rights violations.
Attorney Max Blecher confirmed to multiple media outlets that the lawsuit could be filed as early as today.
Blecher told ESPN the planned lawsuit against the NBA had "nothing to do" with the potential sale to Ballmer, but said Donald Sterling, 80, was considering filing additional legal action against his wife over her negotiations to unload the team.
The posturing raised questions about who was controlling the team's affairs. Multiple reports indicated that Donald Sterling had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or declared mentally incapacitated, clearing the way for Shelly Sterling to negotiate the sale of the team on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust. But Blecher insisted to ESPN that Donald Sterling "is far from mentally incompetent."
According to her attorneys, Shelly Sterling was acting under her authority as the sole trustee of the trust, which owns the Clippers, when she signed a binding contract with Ballmer on Thursday.
"I thank Shelly Sterling for her willingness to entrust the Clippers franchise to me, and I am grateful to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and his colleagues for working collaboratively with me throughout this process," Ballmer said. "I will be honored to have my name submitted to the NBA Board of Governors for approval as the next owner of the Los Angeles Clippers."
Donald Sterling has been under fire over racist comments he made in a tape-recorded conversation with companion V. Stiviano. In the conversation, he chastised her for having her picture taken with black people, including Magic Johnson, and told her not to bring black people to Clippers games.
Sterling contended in a statement to the NBA this week that he was recorded illegally while making emotional remarks during a "lovers' quarrel."
In response to the remarks, NBA Commission Adam Silver banned Sterling from the league for life and fined him $2.5 million. The league Board of Governors had been set to meet Tuesday to vote on whether to expel him as an owner, but that meeting has now been canceled. A two-thirds vote of the league's owners would have been required to oust Sterling.
Ballmer's $2 billion offer for the team topped a $1.6 billion bid from a group that included entertainment mogul David Geffen and a $1.2 billion bid from investors Tony Ressler and Steve Karsh, the Los Angeles Times reported. The offer for the Clippers far surpasses the previous record for an NBA team -- $550 million paid this month for the Milwaukee Bucks.
"I love basketball. And I intend to do everything in my power to ensure that the Clippers continue to win -- and win big -- in Los Angeles," Ballmer said. "L.A. is one of the world's great cities... I am confident that the Clippers will in the coming years become an even bigger part of the community."
Ballmer, 58, was part of a group that last year tried to purchase the Sacramento Kings and move the team to Seattle. The NBA, however, balked at moving the franchise. Ballmer has said he had no intention of trying to move the Clippers out of Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he and all Los Angeles basketball fans look forward to "putting the past behind us and looking forward to a new and winning era for the Clippers."
"I congratulate Steve Ballmer and look forward to working with him and the Clippers to make a positive impact on our city," Garcetti said.
--City News Service