Dick Parsons, named interim head of the Los Angeles Clippers in May amid an outcry over racist comments by longtime owner Donald Sterling, said the $2 billion winning bid for the team is a “knock-out” price not likely to be matched in a forced sale.
It will be “tough to get this price again,” Parsons, the former chairman of Citigroup Inc. and Time Warner Inc. (TWX), told a judge who’s deciding whether to allow Sterling’s wife to sell the Clippers to Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft Corp. chief executive officer, without Sterling’s consent.
Players, coaches and sponsors are ready to abandon the National Basketball Association team if Sterling isn’t gone by the start of the new season, Parsons said. Kia Motors Corp. (000270) is one of the advertisers that will only return as a sponsor if Sterling leaves, and coach Doc Rivers will quit if he doesn’t, Parsons said.
“If Doc were to leave that would be a disaster,” Parsons said. “Doc is the father figure.”
Sterling, 80 is fighting to block the sale arranged by his wife of 58 years, Shelly, saying she duped him into being examined in May by two doctors who found him to be mentally incapacitated. She claims his removal from shared control of the family trust gives her sole power over its assets, including the team.
Shelly Sterling needs a court order that she has authority to sell the team as part of the sale agreement with Ballmer. The deadline for the sale to close has been extended to Aug. 15. The NBA has said it may force a sale if Donald Sterling delays the Ballmer deal beyond Sept. 15.
California Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas, who’s been hearing arguments from both sides, will decide whether Shelly Sterling acted according to the provisions of the family trust by terminating her husband as a co-trustee.
The NBA fined Sterling $2.5 million and banned him for life after after TMZ.com reported that he told a girlfriend in a secretly recorded conversation that he didn’t want her to bring black people to Clippers games or post photos online of herself with former NBA All-Star Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, as part of the league’s disciplinary action, said he would push owners to force a sale of the team that Sterling bought in 1981 for about $12 million. The league installed Parsons to run the Clippers until the ownership issue is resolved.
After agreeing in May to let his wife sell the team, Donald Sterling reversed himself and sued the NBA in federal court in Los Angeles the day after Ballmer agreed to buy it.
Donald Sterling said through his lawyer last month that he would drop both his lawsuit and opposition to the sale, only to reverse himself again days later because the NBA wouldn’t agree to revoke the lifetime ban and the $2.5 million fine. Shelly Sterling then went to court to seek confirmation of the deal.
“The cloud that hangs over this team is the continued ownership of Mr. Sterling,” Parsons said today under questioning by Ballmer’s lawyer, Adam Streisand.
Anwar Zakkour, a Bank of America investment banker who advised the Sterling Family Trust on the Clippers sale, testified today there were three bids for the team -- one for $1.2 billion, another for $1.6 billion and Ballmer’s offer.
“We did back flips,” Zakkour said about the Ballmer bid when asked about it by Shelly Sterling’s lawyer, Pierce O’Donnell.
Zakkour also testified that there’s a “significant risk” the Clippers wouldn’t sell for as much as $2 billion if the NBA were to auction it.
Dean Bonham, an expert witness for Donald Sterling, disagreed, testifying there’s a “chance” the team would sell for more if the NBA were to conduct the sale.
Sterling, a real-estate billionaire, testified this month that he’ll “never, ever” sell the Clippers and that he’ll sue the NBA until the day he dies.
He claims the sale to Ballmer is fraudulent because his wife’s lawyers worked behind his back with the doctors who examined him and that his privacy rights were violated by the unauthorized release of his medical information.
He also told the judge his unwillingness to let the Ballmer sale go through is about economics, not ego. He said he was negotiating a new cable-television contract with 21st Century Fox Inc. and that television providers’ demand for content would continue to drive up the value of sports franchises. The Clippers’ success on the court this year also has created interest from several radio stations to carry the games, he testified.
The case is In the Matter of the Sterling Family Trust, BP152858, California Superior Court, Los Angeles County (Los Angeles).
To contact the reporter on this story: Edvard Pettersson in state court in Los Angeles at
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