Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has agreed to buy the Los Angeles Clippers for a record-breaking $2 billion. Now it’s up to the NBA whether the deal goes through.
Shelly Sterling said in a statement late Thursday that she’d signed a binding contract to sell the Clippers to Ballmer if the National Basketball Association approves. Ballmer “will be a terrific owner,” Sterling said. “I am confident that Steve will take the team to new levels of success.”
Sterling negotiated the sale after her estranged husband, Donald Sterling, made racist remarks caught on tape. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned him for life and fined him $2.5 million. Silver also sought to have league owners vote to seize ownership of the Clippers if the Sterlings did not sell the team.
Shelly Sterling said she made the deal with Ballmer “as the sole trustee of The Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers.” ESPN reported that Sterling recently became sole trustee when “experts” declared her husband mentally incapacitated. Donald Sterling’s attorneys, though, contend he is still a co-owner and must give his consent. “Sterling is not selling the team,” said his attorney, Bobby Samini.
Ballmer beat out bids by groups including Oprah Winfrey and former NBA star Grant Hill. A source familiar with the case told the Associated Press that Ballmer made more than an hour-long personal visit to Shelly Sterling’s Malibu home Sunday. “He knocked their socks off, they bonded, had a good connection,” the person said.
Ballmer said in a statement that he is honored to have his name submitted to the NBA for approval and thanked the league for working collaboratively with him throughout the process. “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,” Ballmer said.
Though Donald Sterling’s attorneys now say he won’t agree to sell the team, a May 22 legal letter obtained by the Associated Press handed authority to his wife. Samini said Sterling has had a change of heart. The confusion makes it unclear how the Ballmer agreement will affect a hearing of NBA owners planned for Tuesday to consider the charge against Sterling for damaging the league.
A three-quarters vote of the 29 owners to support the charge would terminate both Sterlings’ ownership of the franchise. Silver has said he would rather the franchise be sold than seized. Ballmer’s offer is expected to go before the NBA before Tuesday.
Sale prices have soared since the league ratified the current collective bargaining agreement in 2011. But the previous record, made when the Milwaukee Bucks were sold this month, was still just $550 million. Ballmer helped lead a group that agreed to buy the Sacramento Kings in January 2013 with the intention of moving the team to Seattle. But owners voted to deny the bid in order to keep the team in California.