BY Art Thiel 04:36PM 05/30/2014

Clips sale OK’d; Sterling files $1B suit vs. NBA

The NBA Friday approved the agreement between Steve Ballmer and the Sterling family trust, meaning the $2 billion sale of the Clippers precluded the need for the league’s owners to vote Tuesday to strip him of the team. That didn’t stop Donald Sterling from filing a$1 billion suit Friday, seeking damages.

An NBA statement said Shelly Sterling and the trust “also agreed not to sue the NBA and to indemnify the NBA against lawsuits from others, including from Donald Sterling.”

The NBA charged Donald Sterling with damaging the league by making racist comments. The league believed its constitution gave the power to league owners to terminate his ownership — as well as that of his wife, Shelly.

With that, the statement saidl “the NBA will withdraw its pending charge to terminate the Sterlings’ ownership of the team. The NBA Board of Governors still must approve the move, but that is considered a formality.

Relative to other transactions, the league moved with stunning swiftness. It wanted Sterlings to be gone from the sports nation’s consciousness by the start of the NBA Finals Thursday. Ballmer’s single-source offer of all cash that was nearly four times the amount of the highest previous franchise sale made things easy for Commissioner Adam Silver, who likely has a new BFF in the retired Seattle software baron.

Separately, Donald Sterling filed an antitrust suit suit Friday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The league responded later Friday.

“Mr. Sterling’s lawsuit is predictable, but entirely baseless,” NBA Executive Vice President and General Counsel Rick Buchanan told’s Darren Rovell. “Among other infirmities, there was no ‘forced sale’ of his team by the NBA — which means his antitrust and conversion claims are completely invalid. Since it was his wife Shelly Sterling, and not the NBA, that has entered into an agreement to sell the Clippers, Mr. Sterling is complaining about a set of facts that doesn’t even exist.”

Since the agreement between the NBA and Sterling trust was announced after the lawsuit was filed in court, Donald Sterling’s attorney, Max Blecher, said he needed to review all the new information before proceeding.

“We gotta sit down and see how all of this affects us,” Blecher told’s Ramona Shelburne. “We have to think through the whole situation . . .  She’s saying if you sue us, we’ll have to pay out of our own money. It’s like suing themselves. We have to see whether the law allows to happen.”


  • jafabian

    Well, I suppose the $2 million fine imposed by the NBA had to be paid at some point.

  • PokeyPuffy

    Kudos to Steve for taking the initiative, with Oprah breathing down his neck no less. The firehose of money Chris Hansen pointed at the Kings now seems trivial. To paraphrase Condi Rice he was not swatting at flies here.

    Yes this is all pretty silly but I believe STeve will be an advocate for Seattle expansion in the long term. Interesting to picture owners meetings with Clay Bennett and Balmer in the same room. Will his machismo and competitiveness blunt Bennetts’ recent momentum? Just a year ago it almost seemed like Bennett was unstoppable and (with Stern’s nod) represented the will of the owner group

    Will new alliances form amongst ownership, perhaps along tech lines (Cuban/Balmer/Ranadive anyone?)? Does Bennett have the same pipeline to Silver as he did with Stern (or is Silver less impressed than Stern was)? Will TV contract issues change the ownership landscape? Will an OKC loss to SA in the WCF mean Durant reconsiders resigning, or that Presti blows up the team next year (ala Dallas 2011?) Will Balmer’s Clips usurp Bennett’s OKC for Western Conf dominance in 2015?

    • jafabian

      The NBA is probably assuming Ballmer will champion a Seattle expansion and is ready for it I don’t believe putting Ballmer at the table makes a difference. Relocation of another team is never going to happen with Clay Bennett the head of that committee and it’s painfully obvious Adam Silver should change his name to Adam Silver-Stern. I don’t really trust a league anyways where the T-Wolves owner can be actually suspended from the league for circumventing their own salary cap rules and later be named head of the Board of Governors.

      All Ballmer did was drive up the price of a franchise for Hansen. If anything, I’m going to root for the Clippers and hope they go after Durant hard when he becomes eligible for free agency in 2016.

      • art thiel

        After being dumped by Microsoft, I’m not sure where Ballmer’s allegiance to Seattle is. He may end up moving to LA.

        I would agree about not trusting the NBA.

        • PokeyPuffy

          Art Ii would make sense he leaves for good as you describe but he also likely has some positive connections to Seattle and is at the least on good terms with Hansen. He rooted for bad Sonics teams for many a year and that pattern may be engrained. LA has a funny way of driving people crazy, we’ll see if he joins the celebrity merry go round or starts missing us humble folk here.

          Also, being the facilitator for a Seattle return would recast his legacy here. Even if he didn’t participate in ownership he would be seen as a saint. A saint who clearly has the ability to get a very public audience with Silver (Hansen take note)

          Just idle thoughts, and idle thoughts are all this basketball fan can engage in here in Seattle!

      • PokeyPuffy

        agree to your last point. Having Durant tempted by a Balmer-owned Clips would be great altho It will never happen is now a homer for OKC. A more likely scenario is Westbrook gets traded after a 3-29 shooting performance/Thunder loss this evening or in game 7 (prediction!).

        i’m a bit more intrigued by having tech magnates assume the dominant role in the ownership group vs energy industry tea partiers like Clay Bennett, or bizarre racist/perverts like Sterling. Will these fresh new fellas transform the NBA and render Bennett obsolete?

        • jafabian

          I believe Ballmer overpaid for the Clippers to put himself on the NBA map among owners and teams. He started in sales at Microsoft and is a salesman at heart. He’s made a big marketing splash with his oversized purchase. Now he has everyone’s attention, including potential free agents like Durant. Durant has said that Seattle is much bigger than OKC and had more side business opportunities. LA even more. It’ll be interesting to see what OKC does to keep Durant. You can bet the NBA wants him in a bigger market. That’s why LeBron is in Miami and Melo in NYC.

          • RadioGuy

            The NBA (vis-à-vis Stern) learned from the old ABA that as long as you can market the PLAYERS, it doesn’t much matter what CITY is on the front of their jersey. The ABA didn’t sell the New York Nets, they sold Julius Erving…they didn’t sell the Denver Nuggets, they sold David Thompson…they didn’t sell the San Antonio Spurs, they sold George Gervin. It worked for the ABA and Stern, who negotiated the merger/surrender, took notice.

            When the Suns played the Bulls for the championship in the Nineties, the NBA didn’t market it as “Phoenix vs. Chicago,” it was “Barkley vs. Jordan.” They COULD sell a Lakers-Celtics matchup in the Eighties because of the histories of those two franchises, but more often than not it was “Magic vs. Bird.”

            While the NBA would like to have Kevin Durant in a larger market, him being in Oklahoma City has not been a deal-breaker any more than they were hurt by LeBron James being in Cleveland. Look at how often the Thunder are on TV…it’s not because they represent OKC.

    • art thiel

      Many questions, Pokey, and few answers. I would like to be in the room with Ballmer and Bennett. But it may not be a big deal. If Ballmer is shunning Seattle, for a few of the same reasons Bennett couldn’t handle the political resistance, then there may be a respect among fellow pirates.

  • poulsbogary

    What a distasteful and sordid business this NBA is. The vultures circle a senile old man with parkinson’s, alzheimers etc. . .. Does he deserve it, who knows? Not defending sterling, but a vindicitve ex-wife, a freeloading gold-digger, and a retired programmer with so much liquid cash on hand that he does not know what to do with it all. Talk about a triple team. And then a brand new deer-in-the-headlights commissioner who is in way over his head, having clean up a stern dog pile. I thought it could not get any uglier, but it will.

  • jafabian

    35 years ago today the Sonics won the NBA championship.