Basketball junkie Steve Ballmer will fulfill his longtime yearning to be an NBA owner. His $2 billion purchase of the Los Angeles Clippers, delayed by a nasty legal squabble between Donald Sterling and his wife, Shelly, was green-lighted Monday when a probate judge in Los Angeles ruled that Shelly operated within the rules of the Sterling family trust in selling to Bellevue baron and former CEO of Microsoft.
Approval of the sale likely by NBA owners will happen on or before Aug. 15, when his offer, which rocked the worlds of sports and broadcast media, was set to expire. While Sterling can appeal the decision, the judge honored a request under probate law from Shelly that the sale be completed.
Separately, Donald Sterling still can fight a legal battle against the NBA over whether his punishment and the sale violated the league’s constitution. But it will have no effect on the transfer of ownership. If Sterling can prove he was harmed by the NBA’s actions, he would be awarded monetary damages.
“We are pleased that the court has affirmed Shelly Sterling’s right to sell the Los Angeles Clippers to Steve Ballmer,” said Mike Bass, NBA executive vice president of communications. ”We look forward to the transaction closing as soon as possible.”
Ballmer was a partner with Seattle native Chris Hansen, whose plans for building a basketball/hockey arena in SoDo required getting an NBA team before beginning construction. But the bid to relocate the Kings from Sacramento to Seattle was denied by a vote of NBA owners.
Subsequently, Hansen and Ballmer inquired about buying and relocating teams in Minneapolis and Milwaukee, but were rebuffed. Impatient with the pace of the Seattle arena project, Ballmer broke from Hansen’s team when Sterling’s racist remarks recorded in a private conversation were released, causing a national scandal.
New NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Sterling and banned him for life from NBA activities and commenced action to strip him of ownership.
But after meeting Ballmer and seeing that his cash offer was nearly four times the highest sale price for an NBA franchise, Shelly Sterling intervened and agreed to the deal, infuriating her husband.
Ballmer and the NBA made it clear there was no plan or agenda to relocate the Clippers, where they share Staples Center with the Lakers and, in 2014, were more successful.
Hansen’s project, meanwhile, awaits the results of an environmental impact statement forecasted to be ready in September. But no NBA or NHL appears to be on the market.