Bloomberg News

Clippers Sale to Close Next Month, Shelly Sterling’s Lawyer Says

July 30, 2014

The sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to billionaire Steve Ballmer should be completed by the end of next month, an attorney for owner Shelly Sterling said.

“We’re not going to jinx anything but we’re on a trajectory to have this thing closed sometime in August,” Pierce O’Donnell said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

California Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas issued a tentative decision two days ago giving Shelly Sterling the authority to complete the record $2 billion sale of the National Basketball Association franchise after she legally removed her estranged husband, Donald Sterling, from their family trust due to mental incapacitation.

Levanas said the sale to former Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Ballmer can proceed even if Donald Sterling appeals the ruling. Mike Bass, a spokesman for the NBA, said in an e-mail that the league looks forward to the sale closing “as soon as possible.”

Two other lawsuits brought by Donald Sterling limit his remedies to money damages and won’t affect the team’s transfer, according to Gabe Feldman, director of the Tulane University Sports Law Program.

“His ability to block the sale of the team is effectively gone,” Feldman said in a phone interview. “If the sale goes through, it’s inconceivable that it would be unwound. Final would be final here.”

‘Clearly Correct’

Paul Haagen, a professor of sports and contract law at the Duke University School of Law in Durham, North Carolina, said Levanas’s tentative opinion “seems to me clearly correct.”

“I find it hard to imagine a court reversing it,” Haagen said in an e-mail.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver three months ago pledged to force the sale of the Clippers days after audio emerged on the website TMZ of Donald Sterling telling a female friend that he didn’t want her bringing black people to games. Silver banned Sterling from the NBA for life and fined him $2.5 million.

Shelly Sterling announced a deal with Ballmer on May 29, days before the NBA said it would seize the team and seek a buyer itself.

Shelly Sterling, a co-trustee of the trust that owned the team, had her husband found mentally incapacitated based on the findings of two doctors. Levanas found that Donald Sterling was properly removed.

Bobby Samini, an attorney for Donald Sterling, called Levanas’s ruling “only half the battle.” Samini said Sterling will appeal after the judge issues his final decision.

‘True Longshot’

While the antitrust suit against the NBA doesn’t involve an attempt to stop the sale of the team, another lawsuit filed by Donald Sterling against the NBA, Silver and Shelly Sterling is “really a re-tread of the case we just won,” said O’Donnell.

Donald Sterling’s final two legal maneuvers would be to seek an injunction or an emergency writ in appeals court to stop the sale, according to O’Donnell, who said both steps would be unlikely to succeed. Tulane’s Feldman said an attempt to file an injunction to block the sale would be a “true longshot.”

Dick Parsons, who has served as the Clippers’ interim CEO since May 9, testified during the case that he had spoken to coach Doc Rivers, players and sponsors who said they wouldn’t play for or work with a Donald Sterling-run team next season.

“Nobody needs to be bogged down in this foolishness anymore; it’s a tawdry story,” Parsons said yesterday in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “Team members, employees, fans, sponsors, you name it, citizens of LA, I think everybody is relieved.”

Parsons said he testified that the Clippers would have been headed toward a “death spiral” had the sale of the team been delayed into the 2014-15 NBA season.

“The judge recognized the urgency here in allowing the team to move forward and the league to move forward,” Feldman said. “This doesn’t only affect the Los Angeles Clippers, it affects the entire NBA.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Mason Levinson in New York at mlevinson@bloomberg.net; Trish Regan in New York at tregan8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net Dex McLuskey


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