He had previously suffered 1,529 losses as the incompetent owner of the most poorly run franchise in NBA history.
It is, then, no small matter that Donald Sterling’s latest defeat was his worst.
In a stunningly fast and sweeping ruling by Judge Michael Levanas on Monday, Sterling’s attempt to block the sale of his Clippers by estranged wife Shelly to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion was resoundingly trounced within about three breaths of the final arguments.
Levanas didn’t need a recess. He didn’t need a conference. Moments after Donald’s attorney Stefanie Cutler answered a final question, he had heard enough, and he pounced.
He ruled that Shelly had acted properly in making the sale. He ruled there was no fraud in removing Donald from the family trust for mental incapacitation before the sale. He derided the credibility of Donald’s witnesses. He derided the credibility of about everything but Donald’s hair color. He scoffed at claims by one of his lawyers of a “secret Plan B” to remove Donald as owner. He did everything but shout, “‘So who’s the pig now?’”
If this were a basketball game, Sterling was losing, 100-0, in the first quarter. And then it got worse. Once down, he was given a swift and final kick when Levanas granted Shelly’s request for an order under Section 1310(b) of California’s probate law. That section will allow for this sale to be completed regardless of any appellate court’s intervention. Everyone knows how quickly Sterling is going to appeal. This was going to be his last breath, and Levanas knocked it out of him.
The only appropriate ruling that Levanas missed citing was the mercy rule, as Donald Sterling’s latest little game essentially ended in a five-inning rout.
He will undoubtedly continue to poke his head into the Clippers universe in the coming months with all sort of legal balderdash. But finally, for real, it seems as if Donald is done, and leave it to one of his former players to explain what that means.
“This is one of the times where there is an actual penalty for someone who has a lot of money and has used racial words,” said Clippers free-agent center Ryan Hollins in a phone interview with The Times’ Broderick Turner. “So I guess in that sense, some form of justice has been served.”
Donald didn’t show up for the final day of the hearing, but Shelly was there in all her tearful glory, weeping and telling reporters, “I can’t believe it’s over, I feel good.... I haven’t slept for, like, about two months. I’m going to sleep now.”
The NBA and Clippers fans, meanwhile, awoke from a three-month nightmare to find themselves awash in perhaps the second most celebratory day in Clippers history. Monday’s ruling was topped only by that April morning that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life and began proceedings to strip him of ownership after he was heard making racist remarks on a secret audiotape made by his female companion V. Stiviano.
One month after the debacle, Shelly agreed to sell the team to former Microsoft boss Ballmer for the outrageous sum of $2 billion, a sale that Donald initially approved and then rejected, leading to the probate hearing.
There was some fear that the Ballmer bid would be forever tied up in Donald’s legal wranglings, thus leading the NBA to take possession of the team. That won’t happen now. There was also fear that the Clippers Coach Doc Rivers and some of his star players would boycott the start of training camp if Sterling still owned he team, with Chris Paul even acknowledging as much. That also won’t happen now.
“Now we can focus on just trying to win a championship,” Jamal Crawford told Turner. “We have our work cut out ahead of us, but now that that is behind us, we can just focus on basketball.”
Oh yeah, basketball. Ballmer should soon be approved as Clippers owner, and one of the NBA’s most exciting teams can emerge from the controversial cloud that drove it to distraction during last spring’s playoffs. It’s impossible to know whether the Clippers would have beaten the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round if they weren’t so drained by the Sterling turmoil. But the fact is they entered the fourth quarter of the Thunder’s eventual clinching Game 6 win locked in a tie, then simply ran out of steam.
The loss of Donald should be their gain. The energy around the new ownership should give them back that steam. They will be seriously hurt by the loss of backup point guard Darren Collison to the Sacramento Kings in free agency, but they’re hoping Jordan Farmar can fill the gap. They added the competent Spencer Hawes for depth in the middle. All the other stars are back, with Paul still steady, DeAndre Jordan still young and Blake Griffin on the verge of a most-valuable-player type of season. Plus, thanks to Monday’s ruling, now they have the most coveted of assets for a maturing, impressionable team. Now they have peace.
Donald is done, and the Clippers are just getting started, Doc running the show, Ballmer sitting courtside, expectations to the rafters and, yes, everyone welcome.