LOS ANGELES – Steve Ballmer officially became the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday.
The team said the record $2 billion sale closed after a California court confirmed the authority of Shelly Sterling, on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust, to sell the franchise to the former Microsoft CEO. Her estranged husband, Donald Sterling, had unsuccessfully fought the sale of the team he owned since 1981 in court.
Sterling bought the team in 1981 for $12 million and presided over decades of futility before a fierce legal battle with his estranged wife to hold on to his most prized asset.
“I hate losing the team,” Shelly Sterling said at a news conference.
“Really excited — in a pretty hardcore way — to continue the path to making the Clippers a better and better basketball team, and a better and better citizen of the Los Angeles community,” Ballmer told AP in a phone interview.
The bizarre drama began in April when a recording surfaced of Donald Sterling scolding his girlfriend for bringing black men to Clippers games. The audio spurred the NBA to ban Sterling for life and fine him $2.5 million.
Sterling was apologetic after the audio recording went viral, but his mea culpa backfired when he criticized Lakers great Magic Johnson, who had been photographed with Sterling’s girlfriend, as a bad role model for kids because he had HIV. The 80-year-old real estate mogul was roundly condemned from locker rooms to the Oval Office, where President Barack Obama called Sterling’s remarks “incredibly offensive racist statements.”
With the NBA threatening to seize the team and auction it, Sterling initially gave his wife of 58 years permission to negotiate a sale but then refused to sign the Ballmer deal. He said he would sue the league instead and then revoked the trust, which his lawyers said effectively killed the deal.
Shelly Sterling removed Donald as a trustee after doctors found he had symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Adam Streisand, Ballmer’s attorney, said Tuesday that Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas signed the order authorizing the sale even if Donald Sterling’s attorneys appealed.
Pierce O’Donnell, Shelly Sterling’s attorney, said at the news conference that Donald Sterling had filed a petition opposing the sale.
Streisand said even if Donald Sterling seeks an emergency order directing the judge to vacate his order, the attorney is confident an appellate court would agree that Levanas made the correct decision.
Ballmer said he hopes to attend a lot of Clippers games next season. He said interim CEO Richard Parsons has agreed to remain.
“That gives me a chance to figure this all out,” he said.
Ballmer wants to put the controversy in the past and focus the team on being “a great citizen in the community for a diverse set of folks,” including the NBA’s predominantly black players.
Ballmer agreed to give Shelly Sterling the title of “owner emeritus.”
“I am confident that Steve will bring the city a championship team in the very near future,” she said.