It's official: Steve Ballmer is now the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, and Donald Sterling is out of the NBA.
Shortly after Bloomberg News reported Tuesday afternoon that the $2 billion sale of the franchise to the former Microsoft CEO by the Sterling Family Trust had been completed, the NBA released the following statement:
The transaction in which Steve Ballmer purchased the Los Angeles Clippers closed today following the entry of an order by a California court confirming the authority of Shelly Sterling, on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust, to sell the team.
The NBA Board of Governors previously approved the sale and Ballmer is now the Clippers Governor.
That approval came in a vote held last week, according to ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne, after an interview with Ballmer that took place in mid-July. The Board of Governors' vote to approve Ballmer's $2 billion bid was reportedly unanimous.
After the announcement, the Clippers' Twitter account fired off a brief, celebratory message:
... which was followed by a more substantive team statement announcing the sale's completion.
“I am humbled and honored to be the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers,” Ballmer said in the team's statement. “Clipper fans are so amazing. They have remained fiercely loyal to our franchise through some extraordinary times. I will be hard core in giving the team, our great coach, staff and players the support they need to do their best work on the court. And we will do whatever necessary to provide our fans and their families with the best game-night experience in the NBA."
Clippers head coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers had reportedly told team CEO Richard Parsons that he would quit if Sterling remained the team's owner come the start of next season, and had discussed with point guard and player's union president Chris Paul the prospect of a boycott should Sterling's ouster lingered into the season. Such actions now won't be necessary, and Rivers says he's quite pleased to begin anew.
“This is an amazing new day in Clippers history,” Rivers said in the team statement. “I couldn’t be more excited to work together with Steve as we continue to build a first-class, championship organization. I am already inspired by Steve’s passion for the game, his love of competition and desire to win the right way and I know our players and fans are going to be inspired as well.”
The sale completion comes two weeks after Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas ruled in an often contentious probate court case that Shelly Sterling, the wife of the longtime Clippers owner, had acted in accordance with the terms of the family trust in working to sell the team without her husband's consent after neurologists had declared him "mentally incapacitated." Levanas confirmed Shelly Sterling's authority to sell the team in an order entered Tuesday, according to Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times, and that was all Ballmer needed; his attorney told Fenno that the sale was completed mere minutes thereafter, with what ESPN.com's Shelburne reports was a ho-hum wire transfer of $2 billion. (Must be nice.)
Donald Sterling had originally assented to the deal, which nets a record-shattering sale price for the franchise he bought for $12.5 million in 1981, before changing his mind and taking legal action. Levanas' ruling cleared the path for the end of Donald Sterling's attempts to keep the Clippers; an appellate court's decision last Friday to reject his petition to overturn Levanas' ruling officially snuffed out his hopes.
The ousted ex-owner can appeal continue to sue the NBA and/or his wife if he chooses, but with the sale now complete, all he can hope to win is money. Plus, since Shelly Sterling previously agreed that the Sterling Family Trust would indemnify the NBA against lawsuits by her husband, he'd essentially just be suing himself.
Donald Sterling is expected to appeal Levanas' new order and ask an appellate court to vacate the ruling that confirms Shelly Sterling's authority. Such an appeal is considered to have virtually zero chance of succeeding. From the perspectives of every party involved in this ongoing saga save for Donald himself, this is now considered a done deal.
A done deal that allows Shelly Sterling — whose own past is fairly checkered, and who initially attempted to defend her husband's comments before starting to position herself to protect her 50 percent ownership stake and future interests — to stay on as "Owner Emeritus [and the] Clippers No. 1 Fan," as well as the head of a team charity, while affording her plenty of perks at Staples Center. You can't always get all the justice you want, I guess.
Tuesday's sale completion and announcement concludes a remarkable, often harrowing four-month period of tumult that began with the publication of audio recordings that featured Donald Sterling chastising former assistant/alleged girlfriend V. Stiviano for “associating” with minorities, "promoting" said associations by posting pictures she'd taken with black people on Instagram, and potentially bringing African-Americans — most notably former Los Angeles Lakers great and Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Magic Johnson — to Clippers games, among other things.
While Sterling's history of problematic racial attitudes and actions had long since been established, the explosion of media coverage and attention surrounding the recordings resulted in a brand of public pressure that forced the NBA's hand to an unprecedented degree. Following an investigation into the recordings that confirmed Sterling had made the racist remarks, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life, fined him $2.5 million and announced that the league would invoke a clause in its constitution to begin the process of terminating his ownership of the Clippers and forcing the franchise's sale to an outside buyer.
Donald Sterling fought his excommunication at every turn, saying that he didn't intend to sell the team, giving CNN's Anderson Cooper a bizarre, ridiculous and insulting interview on the matter, and refusing to pay the $2.5 million fine levied by the league. Now, after months of bluster and wrangling have resulted in his clear defeat, Donald Sterling finds himself without his team, without his courtside seat and without the status symbol that has defined him for the past three decades.
He also finds himself facing a counterclaim filed by the NBA in federal court on Monday that "seeks to recover damages related to the owner's recorded comments," which caused "'devastating and incalculable harm' to the league," according to Fenno of the L.A. Times:
Sterling must indemnify the NBA against losses and litigation according to the league’s constitution and a July 2005 document he signed, the counterclaim said. Shelly Sterling also signed an agreement in May to indemnify the NBA for any litigation costs related to her husband’s lifetime ban from the league, his $2.5-million fine and the franchise’s sale.
The counterclaim asks for enforcement of the indemnification, including compensating the league for its investigation into Donald Sterling’s comments, imposing the discipline and defending the federal lawsuit.
The combination of NBA's new counterclaim and Sterling's still-pending $1 billion antitrust suit mean that the legal jousting between the two parties will continue. Donald Sterling's connection with the Clippers, however, will not.
“Today was a huge step forward for the NBA and sports," Clippers forward Matt Barnes said.
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