June 5 (Bloomberg) -- Donald Sterling, ending a fight over the Los Angeles Clippers that began in April with the disclosure of his racist comments, agreed to the $2 billion sale of the basketball team to former Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer.
“If Mr. Sterling were to pursue any lawsuit at the present time, it would inevitably drag his wife into the suit and probably Mr. Ballmer, and Mr. Sterling was just not prepared to go there” Maxwell Blecher, Sterling’s lawyer, said today in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “He recognizes that the team, the players, the fans, everybody would be better off with an immediate solution to the problem.”
Blecher said it was his understanding that the National Basketball Association would lift the lifetime ban of Sterling and not insist on the $2.5 million fine it imposed on him. Sterling will drop the lawsuit against the NBA he filed last week, according to his lawyer.
Sterling’s approval of the sale caps a controversy fueled by his secretly recorded remarks to a girlfriend that he didn’t want her to bring black people to games. The outcry over the comments led the NBA to ban Sterling for life and prompted Shelly Sterling, his wife of more than 50 years, to find a buyer for the team before the league forced a sale.
Sterling, 80, sued the NBA for $1 billion on May 30, the day after his wife agreed to the deal with Ballmer.
The NBA had scheduled a vote for June 3 to force Sterling to sell the team following the reaction of players, sponsors and supporters to the secretly recorded comments by Sterling. The vote was canceled after the sale announcement.
Pierce O’Donnell, a lawyer for Shelly Sterling, and Mike Bass, a spokesman for the NBA, didn’t immediately respond to e-mails yesterday seeking comment on Donald Sterling’s agreement to the sale. Robert Platt, general counsel for the Clippers, declined to comment on it.
Sterling, who bought the clippers in 1981 for $12.5 million, claimed in his lawsuit the NBA violated his rights by banning him from the sport for life, fining him $2.5 million and taking steps to strip him of ownership of the team based solely on a conversation he had with a lover that he said was illegally recorded.
The NBA and the Sterling Family Trust said in a joint statement after he filed his lawsuit that Shelly Sterling and the trust agreed to indemnify the NBA against lawsuits by Donald Sterling.
Los Angeles federal court records didn’t indicate whether Sterling was dropping his claims against the NBA.
Ballmer’s $2 billion winning bid for the Clippers is the second-highest ever paid for a franchise in a U.S.-based sports league. Guggenheim Partners paid $2.15 billion for Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012.
Sterling agreed last month to let his wife oversee the sale of the team. While she solicited bids, he told the NBA that the league’s proceedings against him were a “sham.” Sterling said he should be allowed to keep the team, which was the San Diego Clippers when he bought it.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling from the league after TMZ.com published the recordings in which he also told a girlfriend that he didn’t want her to post pictures of herself online with NBA All-Star Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
The recordings drew condemnation from President Barack Obama as well as NBA team owners. They also prompted caused Clippers sponsors to temporarily suspend their association with the team.
In a television interview on CNN, in which he apologized for the racist comments, Sterling criticized Magic Johnson. “What kind of a guy goes to every city, he has sex with every girl, then he catches HIV and -- is that someone we want to respect and tell our kids about?” Sterling told CNN.
Shelly Sterling in March sued the woman to whom her husband made the comments about black people. She alleged that her husband had a sexual relationship with the woman, who goes by the name of V. Stiviano, and that he gave her a $1.8 million duplex, two Bentleys, a Ferrari and a Range Rover as well as $240,000 for her upkeep, all of which came out of community property, according to court filings.
Stiviano’s lawyer alleged in a court request to throw out that case that Shelly Sterling was complicit in her husband’s extramarital affairs and couldn’t ask for a return of the valuables that her husband freely gave away.
The case is Sterling v. National Basketball Association, 14-cv-04192, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).
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