Sterling Wanted to Sell Clippers, Wife’s Laywer Claims

Clippers Co-Owner Shelly Sterling
Shelly Sterling arrives at court in Los Angeles on the second day of the trial over the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers National Basketball Association team, on July 8, 2014. Photographer: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

July 28 (Bloomberg) -- Donald Sterling wanted to sell the Los Angeles Clippers in May to avoid a forced sale by the National Basketball Association for racist remarks he made, a lawyer for his wife said at a trial to determine whether the team can be sold without his consent.

The judge handling the case said he plans to issue a tentative ruling today after closing arguments end.

“He wanted to sell the team,” Shelly Sterling’s lawyer Pierce O’Donnell told California Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas in Los Angeles. “Shelly did his bidding.”

Donald Sterling is fighting his wife’s decision to sell the Clippers for a record $2 billion to former Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer, with his lawyers claiming he was duped by his wife who had him declared incapacitated and seized control of his assets. Shelly Sterling had no motive to do that because Donald Sterling had been urging her to sell, O’Donnell said.

Levanas will decide whether Donald Sterling, 80, was properly removed as co-trustee of the Sterling Family Trust, and if so, whether Shelly Sterling can conclude the sale to Ballmer notwithstanding any appeal by her husband. The deadline for the sale to close is Aug. 15.

The NBA has said it may proceed with a forced sale if the Ballmer transaction still isn’t completed by Sept. 15.

Feathered Nest

Max Blecher, Donald Sterling’s lawyer, asked Levanas not to confirm Shelly Sterling’s authority to sell the team, saying she “feathered her nest in a sweetheart deal” with Ballmer that provides her with $200 million for a charitable foundation as well as perks at Clippers games.

Donald Sterling has argued his wife tricked him into taking two mental health exams in May without telling him they would be used to remove him as a co-trustee. Shelly Sterling knew her husband would never agree to sell the team and plotted with the doctors and her lawyers to strip him of control of the team, Blecher said.

“This is a man who never sold anything in his life,” Blecher said in his closing statement. “She was his wife -- she had a duty to be absolutely candid with him.”

The couple, who have been married for 58 years, have been living separately for the past year, according to court filings. The NBA banned Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million after secretly recorded conversations were published in which Sterling tells a girlfriend that he doesn’t want her to bring black people to Clippers games.

Rivers Out

Dick Parsons, the Clippers’ interim CEO, testified last week that if Sterling remains as owner, the team’s biggest sponsors won’t come back and head coach Doc Rivers will leave.

Sterling said at trial that he would never sell the Clippers, a team he bought in 1981 for $12 million, and that he will sue the NBA for as long as he lives. He filed a $1 billion antitrust suit against the league in federal court after his wife accepted Ballmer’s bid and he filed a separate case against the NBA and his wife in state court a week ago.

Sterling could face a $650 million capital-gains tax bill if the sale goes through, he said in a court filing.

Adam Streisand, Ballmer’s lawyer, said in his closing statement that Sterling had triggered a “death spiral” for the NBA franchise and that he was holding the Clippers and its fans hostage.

“Donald Sterling is on a mission to destroy the trust’s assets,” Streisand said.

The case is Sterling v. National Basketball Association, 14-cv-04192, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

To contact the reporter on this story: Edvard Pettersson in state court in Los Angeles at

epettersson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net Peter Blumberg