Sterling set to sue as NBA eyes $2.5b Clippers sale

A file photograph dated 08 November 2012 shows Steve Ballmer, back then CEO of Microsoft, talking during the unveiling of the project 'Schlaumaeuse' (Clever Mice) in Berlin, Germany. -- PHOTO: EPA
A file photograph dated 08 November 2012 shows Steve Ballmer, back then CEO of Microsoft, talking during the unveiling of the project 'Schlaumaeuse' (Clever Mice) in Berlin, Germany. -- PHOTO: EPA

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - As the NBA prepared to review ex-Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer's US$2 billion (S$2.5 billion) deal to buy the Los Angeles Clippers, a lawyer for Donald Sterling said on Friday the embattled owner planned to sue.

Attorney Maxwell Blecher told AFP that a lawsuit would be filed against the NBA, although he did not offer details as to damages Sterling might seek or whether the lawsuit would in fact challenge the sale to Ballmer that was negotiated by Sterling's wife Shelly.

Ballmer and Shelly Sterling issued a joint statement late on Thursday saying they had signed an agreement for Ballmer to purchase the club for an NBA record of US$2 billion.

Shelly Sterling said she was acting as sole trustee of the family, which owns the team, although Blecher said earlier that Donald Sterling still must sign off on any deal.

In a CNN interview, Blecher said Sterling wanted to hear from the league ahead of a scheduled hearing before the board of governors on Tuesday, when his fellow 29 owners are due to vote on whether to terminate his ownership.

The attorney said the league has no grounds to act against Sterling because the racist remarks for which he has been sanctioned came in a private conversation that was recorded without his permission.

"Under California law, that recording cannot be used for any purpose in any proceeding except for impeachment," Blecher said.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has already banned Donald Sterling for life and fined him US$2.5 million for the racially charged comments he made to girlfriend V. Stiviano leaked onto the website in April.

His rambling attempt at a televised apology on CNN only fuelled the controversy, and ESPN reported that Shelly Sterling had gained sole control of the family trust after two doctors found that her husband was mentally incapacitated.


Despite all the uncertainties, Shelly Sterling expressed confidence the Ballmer deal would go ahead.

"I am delighted that we are selling the team to Steve, who will be a terrific owner," she said.

NBA spokesman Mike Bass said Silver would welcome a voluntary sale of the team by the Sterlings. However, Tuesday's special board meeting was still planned.

"Commissioner Silver has consistently said the preferred outcome to the Clippers proceeding would be a voluntary sale of the team," Bass said in a statement.

"Shelly Sterling advised the NBA last night that an agreement had been reached with Steve Ballmer, and the NBA advisory/finance committee met via conference call this morning to discuss these developments." As the league awaits the necessary documents from Shelley Sterling, the June 3 board of governors meeting "remains as scheduled", Bass added.

The pricetag for a team that has never won a championship would set an NBA record - well above the record US$550 million paid for the Milwaukee Bucks in April.

It would mark a massive financial return for Sterling on a club he purchased in 1981 for just US$12 million.

The 58-year-old Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft from 2000 until February this year, said he loves basketball and will do "everything in my power to ensure that the Clippers continue to win - and win big - in Los Angeles". With those comments, Ballmer reassured Clippers fans that he wouldn't move the team to Seattle, where he had once hoped to relocate the NBA's Sacramento Kings.

Three quarters of the other 29 owners must ratify any sale, but the process could move quickly since Ballmer was vetted by the league when he tried to buy the Kings.

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