Donald Sterling reverses course, will sue NBA for $1 billion after all
Disgraced Clippers owner Donald Sterling has shifted his plans yet again and now intends to follow through with his lawsuit against the NBA, according to Sterling's attorney.
"The deal is off," Sterling's attorney, Max Blecher, told ESPN.com.
Just last week Blecher conveyed that Sterling would forego legal action and consent to the sale of the Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. That plan has apparently changed, and Sterling will sue the league for $1 billion in damages as initially intended.
"From the onset, I did not want to sell the Los Angeles Clippers," Sterling said in a letter circulated among those involved in the sale and released by ESPN.com. "I believe that [NBA commissioner] Adam Silver acted in haste by illegally ordering the forced sale of the Clippers, banning me for life from the NBA and imposing the fine. Adam Silver's conduct in doing so without conducting any real investigation was wrong.
"The action taken by Adam Silver and the NBA constitutes a violation of my rights and fly in the face of the freedoms that are afforded to all Americans."
The charges of the suit include an invasion of Sterling's constitutional rights, violation of anti-trust laws and breach of fiduciary duty associated with the NBA's lifetime ban and termination charges. In April, Silver banned Sterling from the NBA for life and issued a $2.5 million fine -- the most allowed by league rules -- in response to racist comments from Sterling that were made public.
Silver also commented on this lawsuit, specifically, in his press conference before Game 2 of the NBA Finals. He repeated multiple times that the suit stands as a roadblock that must be overcome for the sale of the Clippers to Ballmer can be officially completed. Silver said that Shelly Sterling, Donald's wife, informed him she has a "high degree of confidence" that Donald Sterling's lawsuit against the league will be resolved.
Although Sterling will file the suit against the NBA, the league is legally protected from any damages. Shelly Sterling signed a “binding contract” in May to sell the Clippers to Ballmer for $2 billion. As part of the formal sale agreement, Shelly agreed to "indemnify the NBA against lawsuits from others, including from Donald Sterling," according to an official release. That means that Sterling himself -- via the Sterling Family Trust -- would be liable for any damages issued to the league.
"So in essence, Donald is suing himself and he knows that," Silver said. "While I understand he is frustrated, I think it's over. I think it's just a matter of time now."
Sterling initially seemed willing to cooperate with the aforementioned arrangement, as Blecher said that a larger deal was in place in which the NBA also agreed not to counter-sue Sterling. Silver, however, made clear at his Sunday press conference that that there was never any possibility of lifting either Sterling's lifetime ban or his $2.5 million fine. Per ESPN.com, Blecher declined to comment as to whether that refusal played a part in Sterling changing his mind. Blecher also suggested to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com that a challenge against Shelly Sterling's authority could be made in probate court as soon as Tuesday.
All of these developments come on the heels of news that Sterling had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Sterling was reportedly declared to be "mentally incapacitated" by doctors in May -- a determination that removed him from power of the Sterling Family Trust and, by extension, the Clippers. That left Shelly Sterling as the sole trustee of the family trust. With that status, Shelly Sterling was fully empowered to sell the Clippers to Ballmer with the NBA's blessing.
Blecher has vehemently denied the reports of his client's poor mental state, telling Shelburne that Donald is "far from mentally incompetent" and calling the test results "grossly exaggerated."
Due to a clause in the Sterling family trust, Donald or Shelly can be removed from power if medical experts declared the mentally unfit. The doctors' diagnosis of Donald Sterling's Alzheimer's disease triggered the process, allowing for Shelly to then sell the team without Donald's consent.
“Commissioner Silver has consistently said the preferred outcome to the Clippers proceeding would be a voluntary sale of the team," said NBA spokesman Mike Bass. "Shelly Sterling advised the NBA last night that an agreement had been reached with Steve Ballmer, and the NBA Advisory/Finance Committee met via conference call this morning to discuss these developments. We await the submission of necessary documentation from Mrs. Sterling. In the meantime, the June 3 special meeting of the NBA Board of Governors remains as scheduled.”
SI.com’s Michael McCann reported last Thursday that the NBA could fast track the sale of the Clippers if it has a “favorable impression” about a prospective owner. Ballmer fit the criteria, having made a record offer and being previously vetted by the NBA in his attempt to buy the Kings.
Donald Sterling, 80, has owned the Clippers for 33 years, making him the NBA’s longest-tenured owner. But the NBA recently initiated a charge to terminate his ownership, outlining a list of actions that have have “damaged and continue to damage the NBA and its teams” while also listing off a series of negative impacts on the league. The NBA is taking issue with Sterling for the following reasons:
- Disparaging African-Americans and minorities.
- Directing a female acquaintance not to associate publicly with African-Americans or to bring African-Americans to Clippers games.
- Criticizing African-Americans for not supporting their communities.
The first two items relate to comments made by Sterling to his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, in a private tape that was released by TMZ. The third item relates to comments made during an interview with CNN this month. The NBA is listing the following impacts of Sterling’s comments and behavior:
- Significantly undermining the NBA’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion.
- Damaging the NBA’s relationship with its fans.
- Harming NBA owners, players and Clippers team personnel.
- Impairing the NBA’s relationship with marketing and merchandising partners, as well as with government and community leaders.
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