National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver said it isn’t a certainty that Donald Sterling will be out as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers by the start of next season.
Sterling, 80, is suing the NBA in California Superior Court, arguing that his wife, Shelly, doesn’t have legal authority to sell the franchise without his consent to former Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer.
“It’s in the hands of the probate court right now,” Silver said at a news conference last night in Las Vegas following a four-hour meeting of the NBA’s Board of Governors. “It’s very difficult to say anything with certainty in a situation like this. I can say this with certainty -- we are doing everything in our power to move Donald out as an owner in the NBA.”
Sterling, a real estate billionaire, in April was fined $2.5 million and banned for life by the NBA after the publication of racist comments he made to a girlfriend in a secretly recorded conversation.
For the $2 billion sale of the Clippers to proceed, a state probate judge needs to rule Shelly Sterling acted according to the provisions of the family trust that owns the team by removing her husband as a co-trustee after having him declared incapacitated. Two doctors found he wasn’t mentally competent to share control of the trust. Ballmer has made the legal ruling a condition of his acquisition of the team.
“If the ruling is in our favor, we’ll move forward with the sale,” Silver said. “If not, we’ll move forward with our own proceedings.”
Yesterday had been the scheduled closing deadline for the sale. The NBA has said it may proceed with a forced sale if Donald Sterling delays the sale to Ballmer beyond Sept. 15.
“It’s possible some court would step in and stop us,” Silver said. “It’s highly, highly unlikely because we are absolutely acting within our rights and I think what’s happened in probate court so far has made it even clearer that we’re acting not only within our rights, but doing what’s right and appropriate in this situation.”
Donald Sterling, who has apologized for making racist comments, in May agreed to let his wife oversee a voluntary sale of the team to avoid a forced transfer by the league. He reversed himself and sued the NBA in federal court in Los Angeles the day after Ballmer agreed to buy the team.
Donald Sterling said through his lawyer last month that he’d drop both his lawsuit and opposition to the sale, only to reverse himself again days later because the NBA wouldn’t revoke his fine and lifetime ban. Shelly Sterling then went to court to seek confirmation of the deal.
The Sterlings are scheduled to return to California Superior Court on July 21 to resume testimony.
Silver said yesterday that the NBA’s advisory finance committee has interviewed Ballmer although the sale of the Clippers has been held up by the trial.
“We had an excellent session with him,” Silver said. “He talked to us about his passion for NBA basketball and his desire and interest in owning the team.”