Back in May, the controversy over Donald Sterling's ownership of the L.A. Clippers suddenly morphed from a dispute between Sterling and the NBA over his offensive racial comments into a bitter legal squabble between Sterling and his wife over whether he is mentally incompetent. For the moment, at least, the latter issue appears settled. A Los Angeles County judge's ruling Monday that Shelly Sterling acted properly when she removed her husband from the family trust that owns the team paves the way for what the team and the city it represents desperately need: new ownership.
Donald Sterling's racist rant, captured on a voice tape, disgraced him, embarrassed the NBA and prompted the team's coach to threaten to leave if Sterling remained. Sterling's remarks were even more bizarre given that more than three-quarters of the team and the league are black. All in all, he made a fool of himself, and it would be good for the city and the league if the team were sold.
All marital property fights that reach the courtroom — and especially those that receive significant media coverage — are nasty, cringe-inducing and a little sad. This one is no different. It's unfortunate that the sale of the team had to involve such an emotional showdown, one in which he called her a “pig” in front of the judge, and she argued publicly that he was exhibiting signs of dementia that made him unfit to run the family trust. If they had been able to handle this personal dispute themselves, the city would have been spared an unseemly display.
Now the court has ruled that Shelly Sterling did have the authority to sell the Clippers to former Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, even without her husband's approval. In fact, the judge found Ballmer's offer of $2 billion — a record price for an NBA team — so valuable to the Sterling trust that he granted an order giving Shelly Sterling the right to continue formalizing the sale, even if her husband files an appeal, to protect the trust from losing the offer.
That was a smart move on the judge's part, but it is unlikely to stop the litigious Donald Sterling from appealing anyway — and moving forward on two other lawsuits he has filed in federal and state courts in an effort to hold up the sale. “This is one stage of a long war,” one of his lawyers was quoted saying.
As if the Clippers haven't been through a long enough war with Donald Sterling. We wish he would give up that fight and let the Clippers look forward to a new era in ownership.
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