Donald Sterling told a judge his fight to block the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer is about economics, not ego.
“You think I’m doing this for ego?” Sterling asked a lawyer for his wife, Shelly Sterling, during one of many testy exchanges on the second day of a trial to determine whether she had sole authority to sell the National Basketball Association team after having her husband declared incapacitated.
Sterling, 80, 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.
“My wife can’t run anything,” Sterling told a state probate judge in Los Angeles who is deciding the case without a jury. “Of course I believe the team is worth more.”
Ballmer required as a condition for the deal that Shelly Sterling get confirmation from a judge that she can sell the team without her husband’s consent. The NBA has said it may proceed with a forced sale if Donald Sterling, who was banned from the league over racist comments he made to a girlfriend, delays completion of the transaction past Sept. 15.
Sterling’s lawyers have argued that he wasn’t told that two mental examinations he underwent in May were to be used by his wife to have him removed as co-trustee of the family trust that owns the NBA franchise. One of the doctors testified on July 7 that Sterling’s only comment after she told him he probably had Alzheimer’s was “I’m hungry, I want to eat.”
That doctor, Meril Platzer, wanted to go have drinks at the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Polo Lounge before finishing the exam, Sterling testified yesterday. The second doctor “snuck into my tiny, little lounge and sat so close to me I couldn’t breathe,” Sterling said.
Platzer had testified that, after the exam had been finished, she and Shelly Sterling went to the Polo Lounge because Shelly was upset and wanted to get something to eat. The doctor said she had half a glass of wine and that they were joined by Donald Sterling, one of his lawyers and a third person.
Sterling repeatedly said he loves and trusts his wife. He testified that he withdrew his approval to let her negotiate a sale of the Clippers in May after it became clear she wouldn’t be allowed to keep a 50 percent stake in the team.
“She is a good person, but they are bad people,” Sterling said in reference to his wife and the NBA.
Under questioning by his wife’s attorney, Bert Fields, Sterling said he couldn’t recall a June 4 statement in which he dropped his opposition to the sale to Ballmer. He also couldn’t recall who from the NBA had represented to him that his ban and fine would be rescinded as part of an agreement for the sale to go through.
“Be a man,” Sterling shouted to Fields during the exchange. “For God’s sake, stand up and be a man.”
California Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas several times cautioned Sterling, who was dressed in a black suit and an open-collared shirt, not to get into arguments with Fields and not to ask questions of the lawyer. The real-estate billionaire’s side remarks prompted laughter in the packed courtroom.
The NBA banned Donald Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million in April after TMZ.com reported that he told a girlfriend 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.
Shelly Sterling seeks a ruling by July 15, the closing date of the sale agreement, that she followed the correct procedures under the trust for removing her husband as co-trustee.
The case is In the Matter of the Sterling Family Trust, BP152858, California Superior Court, Los Angeles County (Los Angeles).