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Shelly Sterling Wins, Ballmer Sale Approval Imminent

A Los Angeles probate court judge ruled in favor of Shelly Sterling on all counts, clearing the way for the NBA to approve her sale of the Clippers to former Seattle investor Steve Ballmer. With the Sterling drama done, the league can turn to the TV/media rights, and possible expansion.

edited by Taylor Bartle

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The Sterling soap opera now appears to be over, as far as the Los Angeles Clippers are concerned.

On Monday, probate court Judge Michael Levanas ruled in favor of Shelly Sterling, finding that she legally operated per the terms of the family trust to find her husband Donald "mentally incapacitated" from making decisions regarding the trust and, therefore, the team. Such a finding upholds that Shelly Sterling had the authority and right to offer the Clippers up for bid and to agree to a sale of the team with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

In addition to siding with Shelly, the judge invoked Section 1310(b) of the California Probate Code, preventing any appeal of the decision Donald Sterling might file from disrupting actions Shelly Sterling carries out as trustee, including completing the sale of the Clippers. This, in essence, frees the NBA to approve the sale to Ballmer. As Donald was legitimately removed as a decision maker in the ownership of the team, he cannot block the sale. With his appeals rendered toothless, for all intents and purposes, the most Donald can sue for is what he feels are any potential monetary damages. He currently has pending suits filed against Shelly and the NBA.

The original deadline to approve the sale of the Clippers to Ballmer, one-time investor in the effort to revive Seattle SuperSonics basketball, was the July 15th NBA Board of Governors meeting. The probate trial prevented that from happening, and Commissioner Adam Silver expressed some concern that the Sterling drama would not be resolved prior to the start of the 2014-15 season. In the agreement between Shelly Sterling and Ballmer, a single extension through August 15th to complete the sale was allowed in case any legal concerns were to arise. If the judge were to have ruled in Donald Sterling's favor, that deadline would not have been met, likely voiding the sale and presumably forcing the NBA to begin proceedings where they would've dissolved Sterling's ownership, taken the team's assets, and auctioned them off to the highest bidder.

With the Ballmer sale expected to be approved in short order, the NBA can now turn its attention to other pressing business at hand. The most prominent of that business are the impending television and media rights negotiations and contracts. As we reported last week, these negotiations could have a direct impact on the possibility of the league considering expansion, of which Seattle is seen as the preeminent frontrunner.

All accounts are that the league would like to seal deals with existing partners Disney (ESPN/ABC) and Turner Sports (TNT) as soon as possible, perhaps netting upwards of $2 billion annually, more than double the current contracts. Rumors persist that expansion to two cities might provide the thrust to make that windfall achievable.

For more on the court decision, head over to SBNation's NBA hub.

UPDATE (7/30/14)

USA Today reports that Judge Levanas issued an "oral tentative statement decision" on Monday and that his official ruling was filed with the court on Tuesday. With the filing, Donald Sterling and his attorneys have a two-week window in which to file any appeal of the decision.

Corrected original article, which incorrectly stated that Donald Sterling was legally prevented by Judge Levanas from filing an appeal.