Former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has won a frenetic bidding war for ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers, with a $2-billion offer that would set a record price for an NBA team.
Ballmer bid higher than competitors that included Los Angeles-based investors Tony Ressler and Bruce Karsh and a group that included David Geffen and executives from the Guggenheim Group, the Chicago-based owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Geffen group offered $1.6 billion and the Ressler-Karsh group $1.2 billion. People familiar with both those offers said they were rejected.
Ballmer and Clippers co-owner Shelly Sterling concluded a deal late Thursday afternoon. But Bobby Samini, an attorney for Donald Sterling, said as he left the team co-owner's home: "There's been no sale. There can be no sale without Donald's signature."
The sale price would be almost four times the previous NBA franchise high: the $550 million paid earlier this month for the Milwaukee Bucks. It is the second highest price ever paid for a sports team in North America. The Dodgers sold in 2012 for $2.1 billion.
Donald Sterling agreed last week to allow his wife to conduct a sale of the team. The process was rushed to beat a Tuesday deadline five days ahead of an NBA hearing to oust her family from ownership. Donald Sterling had insulted African Americans in a secret audio recording.
Donald Sterling has waxed and waned on the question of whether he would allow his wife to sell the team he has controlled for more than three decades.
The deal also needs the eventual approval of three-fourths of the 30 NBA owners, but is expected to clear that hurdle as long as Ballmer reaffirms his pledge to keep the team in Los Angeles and not move it to home in Seattle.
Ballmer, 58, left the software giant in February and has an estimated net worth of $20 billion. Unlike other bidders, he did not immediately seek out partners for the purchase of the Clippers.
Ballmer last year joined a group, led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen, to bid on the Sacramento Kings, intending to move the team to Seattle. NBA owners voted to reject the proposed move.
The businessman said in a recent interview that he had no intention of moving the Clippers. He said that the high valuations for the team only made sense in Los Angeles, the second biggest media market in the country.