A supporter holds a photo cutout of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling while standing in line for the NBA Playoff game 5 between Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California April 29, 2014. (REUTERS: Mario Anzuoni)
NBA commissioner Adam Silver admitted Wednesday that he is worried the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer will be slowed down in the courts.
“The biggest concern is that we’re going to get stuck in a quagmire, of sorts, in litigation,” Silver said during an appearance on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike.”
“But the outcome seems pretty clear as I said the other day: Shelly (Sterling) has an agreement with Steve Ballmer. She sold the team. There was a document signed by Donald Sterling giving her the right to negotiate that sale.
“On top of that, under their trust agreement, she had him found by two leading neurologists in L.A. to be incapacitated or incompetent, or whatever the standard is under that trust agreement giving her the sole right to enter into that agreement. And on top of that, she indemnified the league against any lawsuits from Donald; in essence, she’s covering our expenses or any judgment against us.”
Shelly Sterling negotiated a $2 billion sale of the Clippers to Ballmer on May 29 that her husband said last week he would sign off on. Donald Sterling has since issued statements vowing to fight the sale.
“To me, I’m concerned it’s going to delay Steve Ballmer taking over the Clippers,” Silver said in the radio interview. “The team is sort of a little bit in limbo right now. We have Dick Parsons in right now as the interim CEO. He’s a terrific guy. But of course, I can understand from a player’s perspective — they’re going into a draft, they’re going into free agency. The guys want to know where they stand. So we’d like everything to just be clear, so everybody understands how this team is moving forward. That’s my concern, that it just seems unsettled.”
Meanwhile, the mental state Donald Sterling is becoming the central issue in the proposed sale of the team.
Shelly Sterling’s request in probate court Wednesday to grant an emergency hearing that could help expedite the Clippers’ sale was granted and a court date set for July 7 to confirm her claim to be sole trustee of the family trust. The deadline for the sale is July 15.
Representatives of Donald Sterling, Ballmer and the NBA were also present Wednesday in a Los Angeles County courthouse, according to ESPN.com. Paperwork was filed but it was unclear whether an immediate hearing will be granted.
Shelly Sterling sold the Clippers without her estranged husband’s consent. Neurologists reportedly determined Donald Sterling was mentally unfit to conduct his legal and business affairs.
“We’re watching it closely,” Silver said on “Mike & Mike.” “We’ll do as we’re asked to do by Shelly, in order to support her here. But I feel a bit impotent in this situation. I think this is largely a dispute between Donald and Shelly right now.
“It’s like a house at closing: As long as (Shelly Sterling) can pass clear title to Steve Ballmer, then our process will continue. (Ballmer) will go through the usual vetting, but I don’t anticipate any problems from our side. So really, it’s just waiting on them. It will happen. And I think Donald ultimately knows that. He can jam up the works a little bit right now, but it’s time for him to move on.”
Donald Sterling initially agreed to allow his wife to sell the franchise to Ballmer, but then, on Monday, he issued a letter stating that he would not support the sale of the Clippers
“I intend to fight to keep the Team,” he said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN.com.
The guidelines of the Sterling Family Trust, which technically owns the Clippers, did not require a court order to make a designation that Donald Sterling was unfit to make business decisions. However, after Donald Sterling noted his intention to fight the sale, Shelly Sterling and her lawyers said they would seek a court order regarding Donald Sterling’s incompetency.
Max Blecher, Donald Sterling’s lawyer, offered an explanation to ESPN.com as to why Donald Sterling changed his mind about allowing the sale of the team.
“Two things happened,” Blecher said. “(Shelly) decided to go for the mental incompetency to get rid of him. I think that ticked him off. And the frosting on the cupcake was Silver saying he was never going to repudiate the ban or the fines. I think Sterling looking at this like, ‘There’s no dignity for me. I might as well fight.’
“If the league had reached out to him and said, ‘Let’s work something out, we can restore your dignity,’ I think it’s possible he would have changed his mind. But they didn’t … so he decided it wasn’t worth doing the sale. He doesn’t need the money. He wanted to fight for his dignity.”
Blecher also told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer regarding Donald Sterling, who is 80, “It strikes me as totally incredible to argue that this man — I talk to him every day — is incapable of making decisions and is mentally incompetent, And I don’t believe any court is going to make a finding to the contrary.”
On Tuesday, Donald Sterling expanded on the reason he plans to sue the NBA and Silver, who announced that Sterling was banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million.
Besides saying that his right to privacy and right to freedom of speech were violated, Sterling said, “I also feel that the leadership of the NBA is incompetent, inexperienced and angry. It is clear that they took this opportunity to settle the personal grievances they have harbored against me for years.
“The NBA has a history of discriminatory practices which is supported by the numerous lawsuits filed by NBA employees claiming gender based discrimination. Adam Silver has worked for the NBA since 1992. He must know about the discriminatory practices of the NBA which are all matters of public record. The reason Adam Silver is focused on the sale, instead the larger social issue, is because doing so would require him to examine the NBA’s own discriminatory practices, including those that occurred under his many years in leadership. …
“(Silver is) focusing his energy on violating my rights, attempting to take my property, and signing autographs for TMZ.”
Silver responded at halftime of Tuesday night’s finals game by saying, “I have no idea what he is talking about.”