Donald Sterling introduces a new snag in sale of the Clippers

Clippers owner Donald Sterling is having second thoughts about going through with the Clippers sale as long as the NBA bans him for life.
(Danny Moloshok / Associated Press)

Donald Sterling still hasn’t signed off on the official sale of the Clippers because he hopes the NBA will rescind a $2.5-million fine and lifetime ban from all league activities, according to people familiar with the situation.

Sterling recently saw a draft of a statement from the league which he thought absolved him of the penalties, but a person familiar with the NBA’s position said the statement, which was not released to the public, offered no such relief.

“In terms of saying something in a draft press release that indicated they would be dismissing the lifetime ban and the fine, that is not true at all,” said the person, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. “That doesn’t mean that [Sterling] wouldn’t have read something like that into it.


“But if they interpreted it that way that is wrong and there is no thought of lifting the lifetime ban or the fine being rescinded.”

It was unclear if Sterling or his lawyers appealed to the NBA to retract the penalties levied April 29 by league Commissioner Adam Silver after the release of a racially charged audio recording of Sterling.

New Clippers owner-designate Steve Ballmer continues to await an official sign-off from Sterling, whose wife, Shelly, negotiated the NBA-record $2-billion sale of the Clippers last week to the former Microsoft CEO.

Ballmer, or any other potential buyer, wouldn’t want to proceed without a signature from Donald Sterling in case the former Clippers owner later claimed that control of the Sterling Family Trust had been illegally taken from him.

Donald and Shelly Sterling are co-owners of the Sterling trust, which holds the Clippers as one of its properties.

Shelly Sterling has asserted that she did not need her husband’s approval. She is claiming that she became sole trustee of the trust when medical experts concluded that Donald Sterling was not fit to conduct his own affairs.

It is possible that Shelly Sterling will go to court to attempt to get a judge to declare her the sole trustee, clarifying the ownership so that the sale to Ballmer can be completed. She has indicated that she hopes to avoid going to court, in what could be difficult and embarrassing proceedings for her husband, according to a person familiar with her thinking.

The NBA says it believes there is nothing it can do at this time to intervene in any dispute between the Sterlings. Although NBA officials helped facilitate last week’s sale, Ballmer’s takeover still needs affirmation from the league’s 30 team governors.

Sterling appeared to approve of last week’s sale in a statement released Wednesday by his lawyer, Bobby Samini, that said in part, “All disputes and outstanding issues have been resolved.”

But the longtime owner’s change of heart late in the week left those involved in the deal wondering when it will be resolved.