Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has signed a deal to buy the Los Angeles Clippers from the Sterling family for $2 billion, according to ESPN.com. The deal has reportedly been accepted by Shelly Sterling and will be presented to the NBA for final approval.
The approval of disgraced Clippers owner Donald Sterling is no longer necessary, according to ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne, after he was deemed to be "mentally incapacitated" by experts. Preexisting rules of the Sterling trust did not require a court hearing for confirmation of such a ruling. With that, Shelly Sterling is now the sole executor of the family trust and is fully empowered to sell the team to Ballmer.
SI.com's Michael McCann reports 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 an attempt to buy the Kings. McCann also reports that the league could postpone Tuesday's owners meeting, which is set to hold a vote on the charge for Donald Sterling's termination. From McCann:
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.
As of last week, Sterling had authorized his wife to negotiate the Clippers' sale. Although he later disavowed that arrangement, bidding for the franchise continued through the week and as of Thursday morning, Forbes reported that Ballmer was willing to pay as much as $1.8 billion for the team. That figure ballooned to an even $2 billion, which according to the Times was enough to outdo the offers from prospective ownership groups led by David Geffen ($1.6 billion) and Tony Ressler ($1.2 billion).
The agreement with Ballmer could also allow Shelly Sterling to maintain some association with the team, according to ESPN.com. That could be a sticking point for the league, even if Ballmer and all other aspects of the potential sale check out.
Ballmer has also assured Shelly Sterling that he would not relocate the franchise to Seattle despite his ties to the area. That sentiment affirmed comments Ballmer made to the Wall Street Journal earlier this month.
"If I get interested in the Clippers, it would be for Los Angeles," Ballmer said. "I don’t work anymore, so I have more geographic flexibility than I did a year, year-and-a half ago. Moving them anywhere else would be value destructive."
Should Ballmer's reported $2 billion offer stand, it would be the highest sale price in NBA history and the second-highest sale price (behind the $2.1 billion sale of the L.A. Dodgers) for any North American team, per the Times. Sterling, however, would stand to pay $662 million in capital gains taxes as part of the transaction.
Up to this point the NBA has maintained a course toward a June 3 vote for Sterling's termination as team owner. Sterling issued his official response to the NBA's charge for termination on Tuesday with a 32-page document stating his case. In it he presented a wide variety of arguments to dispute his termination, ranging from his California-protected right to privacy to allegation of the league's punishment as arbitrary to dispute over the empowering language of the NBA's constitution. SI.com's Michael McCann parsed every one of Sterling's contentions, which he said are intended for the 29 other NBA owners who will vote on the matter of his termination:
Before analyzing the arguments in Sterling's answer, it is important to highlight the intended audience. Sterling is attempting to persuade at least eight fellow owners on the league's Board of Governors to vote against forcing him to sell the Clippers. Unless at least 22 of the 29 other governors vote to make him sell, Sterling will keep the team, but remain subject to a lifetime suspension. Whether the answer sways potential judges and jurors, or triggers reconsideration by players, media and fans is of secondary interest. The wording, expressions and tone in the answer are crafted principally with Sterling's fellow owners in mind. The owners are not strangers to Sterling. He is familiar with their views and attitudes, and the answer likely reflects his impressions.
The official termination charge against Sterling was made on the grounds that he had "damaged and continue[s] to damage the NBA and its teams." Specifically, the NBA has taken 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 also listed 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.
Finally, the NBA accused Sterling of engaging in "other misconduct," including releasing a "false and misleading press statement." Upon the release of the TMZ tape, Sterling issued a statement in which he questioned the legitimacy of the audio and refused to confirm that the voice on the tape was his.
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