By Chris Hoenig
Just three months after his racist comments were made public, Donald Sterling’s days as the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers are coming to an end.
In a courthouse just two miles from the Clippers’ home arena, a Superior Court judge ruled on Monday that Sterling’s wife, Shelly Sterling, had the authority to remove the 80-year-old as a co-signee of the trust that owned the team and to negotiate the team’s $2 billion sale to former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer.
“It was the best thing and the court system came through with whatever they thought was equitable and fair. I didn’t know which way it would go, I just tried to do the best thing for our family and for everybody else,” Shelly Sterling said. “This is going to be a good thing for the city, for the league for my family and for all of us. Come see the Clippers next year.”
Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas also ruled that the sale can go forward, regardless of any appeals from Sterling or his lawyers.
The ruling won’t be finalized until the judge files it in writing, which is expected by Aug. 13. Lawyers for Ballmer and Shelly Sterling say they expect the sale of the team to close by Aug. 15.
Donald Sterling claimed he was baited into telling his girlfriend not to bring Black people to Clippers games in a CNN interview—which also included a verbal attack against NBA legend Magic Johnson—but he signed a document allowing Shelly Sterling to negotiate a sale. He would later change his mind and try to dissolve the trust after Shelly Sterling reached an agreement with Ballmer.
Sterling was removed as a trustee after two independent neurologists diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s, ruling him mentally incompetent to serve as a signee. He argued that he was duped into the examinations and that the court didn’t have jurisdiction because the trust had been dissolved.
On the witness stand, Sterling, a real-estate investor who bought the team for $12 million in 1981, claimed he showed no signs of incompetence. His often combative testimony included a vow to “never, ever sell,” and he also called Shelly Sterling a “pig” when she approached him in court.
“It was tough,” Shelly Sterling said of the trial. “We do have love for each other. I hope it will all work out between us and it will. Everything will be good. It was very tough. All I want to do now is get some sleep. I haven’t slept in weeks.”
The trust’s chief financial officer testified that his boss’ decision to dissolve the trust had led banks to begin recalling loans. Darren Schield told the court that if the team was not sold, Sterling would have to sell $500 million worth of property to pay off the debts. Analysts said marketing that much property would likely destabilize the entire Los Angeles real-estate market.
“He didn’t take it too hard,” Bobby Samini, Donald Sterling’s attorney, said of his client, who wasn’t in court on Monday. “He just said, ‘Keep fighting,’ ”
Sterling has also filed a fraud lawsuit against the NBA, Comissioner Adam Silver and his wife, alleging the sale was a breach of contract. Terms of the sale protect the league from lawsuits, meaning even if Sterling wins, his own trust will have to pay any damages ordered against the league.