LOS ANGELES — Amid another twist in the strange tale of the Los Angeles Clippers’ sale, Steve Ballmer said he is ready to pull the franchise out of chaos and “live out the dream and make this kind of America’s team.”
The former Microsoft chief executive, who bid a record $2 billion, described “a big, bold dream for the Clippers” that included winning NBA championships. He talked about turning the team into a role model of inclusiveness, after a month of unrest that followed the release of an audio recording of team co-owner Donald Sterling chastising a female companion for socializing in public with black people.
Even as Ballmer spoke, a furious contest was mounting between the two co-owners of the team, and the main force behind efforts to return the NBA to Seattle said he and his “remaining partners” were still committed to doing so.
Shelly Sterling conducted the sale to Ballmer at a breakneck pace and said she had the sole control of the trust that owns the Clippers. Donald Sterling, 80, the longtime co-owner, charged that his wife had illegally pushed him aside.
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Shelly Sterling had asserted herself as the lone trustee of the Sterling family trust after doctors evaluated her husband earlier this month and found that he was no longer able to conduct normal business affairs, people familiar with the situation told the Los Angeles Times.
The Sterling trust allows for the transfer of control to the other member if one is found unable to perform standard duties, those sources, who asked not to be identified because of the confidential nature of the trust, told the newspaper. Donald Sterling’s attorney called the assertion that his client could not handle his affairs “absurd.”
Donald Sterling’s lawyers filed a lawsuit Friday afternoon in U.S. District Court, alleging that the NBA, Commissioner Adam Silver and others had violated his constitutional rights because the recording that touched off the scandal had been made in secret and without his permission.
The suit asked for Sterling’s reinstatement from a lifetime ban, lifting of a $2.5 million fine and sought more than $1 billion in damages.
A statement from the league Friday said that a dispute over ownership had been resolved with Shelly Sterling and the Sterling Family Trust, and that the agreement included the sale to Ballmer, pending approval from the other NBA owners. That is considered likely because Ballmer was vetted by the league and owners last year, when he and a group led by Chris Hansen tried unsuccessfully to buy the Sacramento Kings and move the team to Seattle. Ballmer’s deal to buy the Clippers is expected to close July 15.
In light of the “binding agreement” to sell the team, the NBA said it would withdraw its charges against Donald Sterling and cancel a hearing set for Tuesday, at which Silver had been prepared to ask the league’s owners to vote to strip both the Sterlings of the team.
In an interview with the L.A. Times, Balmer called recent events “one of the more complex situations I have ever been involved in.”
The 58-year-old Hunts Point resident and former CEO of Redmond-based Microsoft promised to keep the Clippers in L.A., gushed about the city where he said he will now spend considerable time, and suggested he would pay what it takes to land top free agents. He said he is confident he can make money, despite paying more than experts said the franchise was worth.
He defended the $2 billion price tag, which was nearly four times the previous record price for an NBA club. He said that he paid for what the team can become in the future.
“I’ve got big dreams for the team. I’d love to win a championship. I’d love the Clippers to be the most dynamic, vibrant team and name in professional sports. But I got a lot to learn,” he said.
Ballmer suggested he is embracing Los Angeles as a second home and can make the business work best in the second-largest media market in the country.
“The only way any of this makes sense — my desire to spend time in Los Angeles, this team, its aspirations, this community, this purchase price, any of that — is to really kind of live out the dream and make this kind of America’s team, the Los Angeles Clippers.”
Hansen offered his congratulations to Ballmer on Friday and vowed to return the NBA to Seattle.
“I would also like to assure Seattle fans that my remaining partners and I remain committed to bringing the NBA back to Seattle,” Hansen said in a statement posted on his website, seattlearena.com. “The environmental-review process for the Seattle Arena is nearing completion and we will soon be in a strong position to attract a franchise back to the Emerald City.”
King County Executive Dow Constantine said Friday the Ballmer developments wouldn’t stop efforts to try to bring the NBA and NHL to Seattle.
“The resolute work by investor Chris Hansen to build an arena started well before Mr. Ballmer was involved, and it will continue after,” Constantine said in an emailed statement. “We will keep working to bring back our Sonics and bring the excitement of NHL hockey to our region.”
This report also includes information from Seattle Times staff reporter Geoff Baker.