Judge gives go-ahead for sale of LA Clippers
The estranged wife of Los Angeles Clippers co-owner Donald Sterling can proceed with the record US$2 billion sale of the NBA team despite her husband's objections, a judge ruled today, in a likely coda to a case of lingering racism in American sports.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas said the deal struck by Shelly Sterling with former Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer was permissible and could be consummated even if Sterling, who has been banned for life from the National Basketball Association for racist remarks, chose to appeal.
"She had every good reason to believe that Donald agreed to the sale of the team," said Levanas, who added that he found Donald Sterling's combative testimony at the emotionally charged nine-day trial "often evasive and inconsistent."
The ruling was a major victory for an embarrassed NBA and Shelly Sterling, who had asked the probate judge to confirm her as the trustee of the family trust that owns the Clippers. She acted in May to have her 80-year-old real estate billionaire husband removed when neurologists deemed him to have early Alzheimer's disease and unable to handle business affairs.
Shelly Sterling, 79, cried after the ruling and told reporters outside the courtroom: "Either way we'd win. I am just doing what I had to do."
Donald Sterling's attorneys said they would file an appeal of the decision.
"He doesn't see this as the final battleground," said Sterling's attorney, Bobby Samini. "This is one stage of a long war."
In an unprecedented move, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling and fined him US$2.5 million three months ago after his taped private comments imploring a girlfriend not to associate with black people, including NBA Hall of Fame player Magic Johnson, were published.
The majority of NBA players are black, and Clippers interim CEO Richard Parsons testified that team sponsors were ready to leave, head coach Doc Rivers could quit and players would refuse to play if Sterling was able to keep the franchise he has owned for 33 years.
Under Sterling, the Clippers for decades languished as a league doormat and afterthought to the marquee Los Angeles Lakers, but in recent years they have added enough talent to compete in the NBA playoffs.
Sterling had vowed to block the sale he initially blessed because he said his wife improperly removed him as a trustee of the family trust that owns the Clippers.
Shelly Sterling also said she believed her husband's ban from the NBA would be lifted. During the trial, Sterling had treated her with both love and contempt, calling her a pig and liar at one stage.