The NBA and the Los Angeles Clippers are ready to move on, even if Donald Sterling wants to keep fighting.
Move on to Steve Ballmer, who paid a record price for the team and is now a step closer to finally owning it.
The Clippers are a potential powerhouse team next season, with two All-Star players and one of the league’s best coaches. The only thing that could’ve messed it up was ownership.
That no longer appears to be a concern after Monday’s ruling in Los Angeles, where Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas sided with Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, who negotiated the sale to Ballmer for a record-breaking $2 billion. Donald Sterling was trying to block the sale.
Now it could all be completed within two weeks.
“We look forward to the transaction closing as soon as possible,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement.
The league wanted to work with Ballmer, who made clear his desire to own with the astonishing price he paid. The former Microsoft CEO was nearly an NBA owner last year before owners chose to keep the Kings in Sacramento, rather than allow them to be sold to a group that included Ballmer, and moved to Seattle.
He got another chance after Donald Sterling was recorded making racial remarks to a female friend. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver then banned Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million, and said he would urge owners to force Sterling to sell.
Instead, Shelly Sterling made the deal with Ballmer, which could have fallen through if Levanas had ruled she didn’t have the authority. And the Clippers’ high hopes might’ve crumbled just as quickly.
Doc Rivers would possibly have quit as coach if Sterling remained the owner, interim CEO Richard Parsons had testified. All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who also is president of the Players Association, might have sat out and convinced other players to join him. Sponsors who already started to flee after Sterling’s recording was released might have stayed away for good.
“The Clippers would suffer a massive loss of value if the team survived at all,” Levanas said.
Now they will go into next season flying high, just the way they play with Paul throwing alley-oop passes to big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. They will have an owner who’s already proven he won’t be afraid to spend, a sharp contrast to the famously frugal Sterling, who never particularly cared to spend his billions on his basketball team.
That’s just part of the reason Sterling was long considered one of the worst owners in sports and his team one of its biggest laughingstocks. But the Clippers had zoomed past the Lakers as the best team in Los Angeles in their three years since acquiring Paul and are perhaps on their way to becoming one of the best in the league.
They won 57 games last season, their most ever, before the Sterling recording was released during their first-round playoff series against Golden State. The Clippers pulled that out in seven games but who knows what toll, if any, dealing with the Sterling fallout took, and they were ousted by Oklahoma City in the next round.
An unusual provision of the ruling bars Donald Sterling from seeking a court-ordered delay of the sale as he appeals. His lawyers plan to seek permission from an appellate court to file an appeal, and with lawsuits pending in state and federal courts, Monday’s ruling is unlikely to end the bizarre saga.
But it gave the NBA, the Clippers and Ballmer hope that it all could be finished soon.
“I think the sale is going to go through,” said Bruce Givner, a Los Angeles tax attorney who handles celebrity cases. “I suspect the NBA is ready to move very quickly. They want to get rid of Sterling like a canker sore. Nobody wants him around except the people that are charging legal fees to continue this charade.”