Shelly Sterling gets ‘owner emeritus’ status in Clippers deal

Shelly and Donald Sterling attend a Clippers basketball game in 2010.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Clippers co-owner Shelly Sterling decided to sell the team last week rather than fight to maintain half ownership in part because of a novel arrangement that will make her “owner emeritus” and fund a major foundation to serve the poor, minorities and battered spouses, according to people familiar with the $2-billion sale of the team.

The special provision in a sales agreement signed last week with former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer will allow Sterling, 79, to maintain a significant presence with the franchise, even though she is giving up her 50% stake. The other half of the Clippers is owned by Donald T. Sterling through a family trust. Shelly Sterling sold the entire team to Ballmer after taking control of the trust, citing her husband’s alleged mental failings.

The notion of a post-ownership role for Shelly Sterling was conceived by her attorney, Pierce O’Donnell, and given conceptual approval by the NBA, which had insisted that both Sterlings give up the team after the release of an audio recording in late April in which Donald Sterling made racially inflammatory remarks about blacks.


Shelly Sterling has pushed to separate herself from her estranged husband, decrying his remarks and saying she intended to divorce him after 58 years of marriage. She had said through representatives she would wage a protracted fight to remain part owner of the team. But the NBA insisted that Donald Sterling’s actions necessitated the removal of both Sterlings and a fresh start for the Clippers.

It took a special agreement -- a part of the deal sheet presented to bidders late last month -- to make Shelly Sterling back off her combative stance and become more comfortable selling the team, individuals close to the deal said. They asked not to be named because the negotiations were supposed to be confidential.

Now a new foundation will be created and funded by the Clippers organization, with some of the details of the arrangement still to be finalized. Shelly Sterling is expected to become co-executive director of the organization, which does not yet have a name, along with Ballmer, who made the record bid for the Clippers by himself.

With the hundreds of millions of dollars she will make from her share of the sale, Shelly Sterling might also contribute to the foundation. The organization’s beneficiaries are supposed to be the very kind of people that her husband was accused of demeaning in his recorded remarks to his companion, V. Stiviano.

“This allows Shelly to have a measure of dignity and to continue to have a connection to the team she loves,” said one person involved in making the deal. Ballmer referred to Shelly Sterling as the “owner emeritus” of the Clippers in an interview with The Times on May 30, the day after his bid was accepted. The arrangement will also give her more seats to Clippers games and enhanced parking and other perks, according to those involved in the deal.

At the end of last week, Donald Sterling had still not made it clear whether he would sign off on the deal or try to go to court to block it. He is said by associates to want the removal of a $2.5-million fine and a lifetime ban from the NBA -- punishments imposed by Commissioner Adam Silver after Sterling said he did not want Stiviano to bring blacks to Clippers games.


If he decides to fight, Sterling would presumably go to court to contest his wife’s actions in assuming sole control of the family trust that owns the Clippers.