By Chris Hoenig
Donald Sterling, the racist owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, stands to rake in a huge profit after former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer agreed to a record $2 billion deal to purchase the franchise.
Ballmer and Sterling’s wife, Shelly, signed the sale papers late Thursday night in Los Angeles.
“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.”
Sterling also said she was able to complete the sale because she recently became the sole trustee of the Sterling’s family trust, which owns the team, when her husband was declared mentally incompetent.
It’s unclear if Donald Sterling’s lawyers will fight that ruling, though one of his lawyers told ESPN earlier in the day that Sterling had not signed off on the sale and another told The Los Angeles Times, “There’s been no sale. There can be no sale without Donald’s signature.”
Donald Sterling reportedly signed over his stake in the team last week, but then changed his mind. His lawyer said earlier this week that he planned to “fight to the bloody end” to keep the team and fight the charges from the league that could have stripped him of his ownership.
The sale of the team comes just days before a June 3 hearing by the league’s Board of Governors, which could have included the vote to terminate Sterling’s ownership. CBS Sports reports that the vote could be delayed while the sale process continues.
Sterling paid just $12.5 million for the team in 1981, and moved them from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984. In January, Forbes listed the value of the team at $575 million, just the 13th-highest in the league.
Even at $575 million, the sale would have been the most expensive in NBA history, surpassing the $550 million sale of the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this year. Instead, the $2 billion deal becomes the second-largest in the history of professional sports, only trailing the $2.15 billion purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers by Magic Johnson and Guggenheim Partners in 2012. That deal also included land, parking lots and TV-rights money, while the Clippers sale only includes the team’s practice facility.
Ballmer can afford it, though. With an estimated $20-plus billion fortune, he will become the richest majority owner in professional sports, surpassing his old boss, Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Sounders owner Paul Allen.
Microsoft is one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies for 2014.
“I love basketball,” Ballmer said in a statement. “And I intend to do everything in my power to ensure that the Clippers continue to win—and win big—in Los Angeles. 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.”
An attempt by Ballmer to purchase another NBA team, the Sacramento Kings, was nixed by other league owners last year because of his plan to move the team to Seattle. He has publicly and privately said that he has no intention to move the Clippers out of Los Angeles, and ESPN reports that he plans to move to the city himself now that he no longer works at Microsoft.
Ballmer was the only bidder not to have other investors join him in his offer for the team. A group led by music mogul David Geffen—which included Oprah Winfrey, members of the Guggenheim group that owns the Dodgers, and Steve Jobs’ widow, Laurene—reportedly offered $1.6 billion for the team, while Los Angeles–based investors Tony Ressler and Bruce Karsh tabled a $1.2 billion bid.