Forty days after publication of his racially inflammatory remarks about African Americans that led to his banishment from the NBA, Clippers owner Donald Sterling agreed Wednesday to give up his fight to keep the team and accepted the record $2-billion sale arranged by his wife.
Sterling pledged to drop his $1-billion antitrust lawsuit against the league and allow former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer to proceed with his purchase of the Clippers, two of the owner's lawyers said.
The unexpected concession brings an apparent end to a more than three-decade tenure during which Sterling routinely perplexed fans and players and occasionally provoked critics to label him the worst owner in professional sports.
Sterling, 80, had suggested as recently as Tuesday, through attorney Max Blecher, he might contest the Clippers sale. He protested that his wife, Shelly, had improperly sold the team after taking control of a family trust by falsely asserting he was not mentally competent to handle business matters.
Blecher previously said a protracted battle over the Clippers could amount to "World War III."
But Tuesday night, the billionaire apartment baron told NBC4 news the sale of the team he acquired in 1981 for $12.5 million was "all good" and he was ready to move on. "I feel fabulous," Sterling said. "I feel very good. Everything is just the way it should be, really. It may have worked out differently, but it's good."
Another Sterling attorney confirmed Wednesday the mercurial businessman had agreed to sell and drop his complaints against the NBA. The league, in turn, agreed it would give up the administrative charges it had leveled against Donald Sterling in an attempt to get other owners to strip both Sterlings of control of the Clippers, Blecher said.
The NBA did not immediately confirm the arrangement, though people familiar with the situation said they believed Sterling had agreed to a settlement but not signed it as of early Wednesday evening. The NBA was expected to leave its lifetime ban and a $2.5-million fine against Sterling in place.
The NBA's other 29 owners must still approve the sale to Ballmer, 58, who outbid two other contenders last Thursday to become owner-designate of the Clippers. The Seattle-based tech titan should be easily ratified, in part because he already was scrutinized by the league last year, when he attempted to buy the Sacramento Kings and move the team to Seattle.
Ballmer has said he is not moving the Clippers from the nation's second-largest media market.
Ballmer was scheduled to meet Thursday with Clippers employees, said one worker who declined to be named discussing internal matters. The incoming owner has said he is ready to spend big to build a champion and believes he could turn the Clippers into "America's team."
After decades in which they compiled the worst record in North American pro sports, the Clippers have become a playoff-caliber team in recent years and this spring made it to the second round of the playoffs, for just the third time since the team moved to California.
While various would-be buyers had made a run at the Clippers over the years, Sterling adhered to the same buy-and-hold strategy that had made him a fortune in real estate. He once told a reporter: "I never sell anything."
But no measure of resolve could thwart the wave of disdain that hit Sterling beginning on the night of April 25. That's when the website TMZ released a recording in which the Clippers boss chastised his assistant and frequent companion, V. Stiviano, for associating with blacks in public. He asked the 31-year-old woman not to bring black people to Clippers games or to post pictures on Instagram of herself posing with blacks.
Fans threatened to drop their season tickets, players considered a boycott of first-round playoff games and more than a dozen advertisers dropped or suspended relationships with the Clippers. A few days later, Silver sanctioned Sterling and began the process of stripping the couple of the team they co-owned through the family trust.
Times staff writer Tiffany Hsu contributed to this report.