Donald Sterling era ends for Clippers, team in hands of Steve Ballmer

The $2-billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was finalized Tuesday.

When Steve Ballmer’s attorney walked into Room 236 in Los Angeles Superior Court at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the clerk handed him a three-page order bearing a judge’s signature.

The lawyer immediately sent a two-word email to the NBA, Ballmer and other attorneys: “CLOSE NOW.”

A hasty conference call followed, the sale documents were signed and the remaining $1.7 billion of the record $2-billion deal was transferred. Finally, the Clippers sale was completed.

It was 8:40 a.m.

“You don’t have it until the money has transferred to the sellers’ accounts,” Ballmer said from vacation in Montana. “When that happened, I said, ‘Darn, I guess we are done.’ ”

In the space of a few minutes, Donald Sterling’s 33 years as Clippers owner came to an end. It had been nearly four months since Sterling’s recorded comments about blacks touched off a firestorm.


Clippers interim Chief Executive Dick Parsons, appointed by the NBA, termed it a “death spiral” for the franchise.

Sterling, hadn’t conceded late Tuesday.

His attorneys asked an appellate court for an immediate stay and an order “halting or unwinding the sale” to “restore public faith in our justice system.” Attorneys familiar with such petitions considered it a long shot. There was no timetable for the appellate court’s ruling.

“We think it’s not even a good Hail Mary pass,” said Pierce O’Donnell, who represents Sterling’s wife, Shelly.

But the NBA’s announcement was unequivocal: Ballmer was the league’s approved owner of the Clippers.

“The next wave of Clipperdom, hopefully, has arrived,” Ballmer said.

The NBA’s board of governors voted 29-0 by email last week to approve Ballmer’s purchase, with the Clippers abstaining. The league’s finance and advisory committee interviewed Ballmer last month in Las Vegas.

“I am confident Steve will bring the city a championship team in the very near future,” Shelly Sterling said in a statement. “I cannot wait for the new season to begin.”

A sense of inevitability surrounded Ballmer’s ascension Tuesday, even with Sterling’s last-ditch petition to the appeals court.

“It’s all academic now because we already have a new owner of the Clippers,” said Adam Streisand, Ballmer’s attorney.

In an email to fans, the former Microsoft chief executive described a “new era” for the Clippers and unfolded a vision of a franchise that plays an active role in the community. Clippers Coach Doc Rivers and players, including Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, lauded Ballmer’s arrival — and an apparent end to the circus-like atmosphere surrounding the franchise.

“I cannot wait to play this season knowing that Mr. Ballmer is our owner,” center DeAndre Jordan said. “Today was a great day for the Clippers.”

Ballmer plans to attend a Monday rally at Staples Center with Rivers and players. The new owner took up a theme he used in a recent speech to USC graduates when asked about the philosophy he’ll bring to the organization.

“I told them to be hard core — to be persistent, to stay at it, to grind, grind, grind,” Ballmer said. “I know the team will do that and I want the team to know that everyone behind them is going to support them in the same way.”

As part of the sale agreement, Shelly Sterling receives two courtside seats for each Clippers game at Staples Center, six parking spaces and three championship rings if the Clippers win an NBA title. She also gets the titles of “Clippers Number One Fan” and “Owner Emeritus” for the rest of her life.

A provision of the sales agreement would have allowed Shelly Sterling to retain up to 10% of the franchise through a foundation bearing her name. But that won’t be exercised because her husband didn’t consent to the sale.

After two doctors declared Donald Sterling mentally incapable of handling his business affairs in May, Shelly Sterling removed him from the family trust that owns the Clippers and agreed to sell the franchise to Ballmer. As part of that agreement, Donald Sterling had to consent in writing to the sale or a court had to approve the transaction. That led Shelly Sterling to ask a probate court in June to validate the sale.

If the sale hadn’t closed by Sept. 15, the NBA said it would have renewed proceedings to strip the Sterlings of ownership and auction the franchise.

Donald Sterling said he would never relinquish the team, which he purchased for $12.5 million, and he testified he planned to sue the NBA for the rest of his life. At one point, he called his wife of 59 years a “pig” in the courtroom.

Last month, Judge Michael Levanas ruled Shelly Sterling followed the terms of the trust and the deal should proceed. He also issued an unusual order under California’s probate code that prevents Donald Sterling from overturning the sale on appeal.

Donald Sterling didn’t return a request for comment through Bobby Samini, one of his attorneys.

Sterling’s attorneys previously insisted the probate court case was part of a multi-pronged strategy to prevent the sale that also includes a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NBA and a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court accusing the league and Shelly Sterling of fraud.

The NBA countersued Donald Sterling on Monday in federal court, saying his recorded comments caused “devastating and incalculable harm” to the league.

Times staff writers Ben Bolch and Kim Christensen contributed to this report.