Steve Ballmer (left) has signed a $2 billion agreement to buy the Clippers. (Noel Vasquez/GC Images)
Shelly Sterling, the wife of disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, announced on Friday that she has signed a "binding contract" to sell the Clippers to former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.
Any sale agreement must be approved by the NBA's Board of Governors by a three-quarters vote.
“I am delighted that we are selling the team to Steve, who will be a terrific owner,” Shelly Sterling said in a statement. “We have worked for 33 years to build the Clippers into a premiere NBA franchise. I am confident that Steve will take the team to new levels of success.”
Shelly Sterling's legal counsel noted that she undertook the agreement "under her authority as the sole trustee of The Sterling Family Trust." Shelly Sterling was advised by Bank of America Merrill Lynch during the negotiations. The Los Angeles Timesfirst reported the $2 billion price tag on Thursday.
In a seperate but equally newsworthy move, Donald Sterling's lawyer announced Friday that his client would be suing the NBA for $1 billion in relation to damages over constitutional rights, violation of anti-trust laws and breach of fiduciary duty associated with the NBA’s lifetime ban and termination charges.
ESPN.com reported Thursday that Donald Sterling was deemed mentally unfit to negotiate the sale of the team, opening the door for Shelly Sterling to accept bids and negotiate terms. On Friday, TMZ.com reported Sterling was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
Ballmer, 58, served as CEO of Microsoft from 2000 until Feb. 2014.
“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," Ballmer said in a statement. "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.”
In 2013, Ballmer was involved in the failed attempted purchase of the Sacramento Kings with the intention to move them to Seattle and re-brand the organization as the Supersonics.
In a press statement released Friday, Ballmer indicated his excitement to own a team in Los Angeles, and he told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month that he would not attempt to relocate the team.
"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 – a city that embraces inclusiveness, in exactly the same way that the NBA and I embrace inclusiveness. I am confident that the Clippers will in the coming years become an even bigger part of the community."
Ballmer's net worth has been pegged at more than $20 billion by Forbes, which would make him the richest owner in American professional sports. The $2 billion sale price would set a record for an NBA team, obliterating the $550 million sale price for the Milwaukee Bucks. Only Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers, which sold recently for $2.1 billion, have been sold for a higher price.
The announcement of the sale agreement comes just days before June 3, the date that the NBA's Board of Governors was set to vote on ousting Donald Sterling.
It's not year clear whether Donald Sterling will attempt to legally challenge the sale of the Clippers, as he has wavered back and forth in his public statements regarding his willingness to sell.
SI.com’s Michael McCann reported Thursday that the NBA could fast track the sale of the Clippers if it has a “favorable impression” about a prospective owner. Ballmer would seem to fit the criteria, having made a record offer and being previously vetted by the NBA in his attempt to buy the Kings. McCann also reports that the league could postpone the June 3.
Sources tell SI.com that the NBA’s top priority is for ownership to be transferred, and the league would welcome the exchange occurring voluntarily. A voluntary transfer would avert a potentially contentious hearing next Tuesday and, more importantly, avert the potential of Sterling filing a costly and lengthy lawsuit against the NBA and its owners.
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.
Silver and the National Basketball Players Association have both pushed for a quick resolution to the Clippers' ownership situation, with an understanding that both Donald and Shelly Sterling would cease to hold a stake in the team. This lucrative, speedy sale agreement would seem to be a major step in achieving that goal.
SI.com's Matt Dollinger contributed to this post.