The ClipBallm ordeal is now over.
On Tuesday, the NBA Board of Governors approved the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. The $2 Billion transaction between Ballmer and Shelly Sterling, acting on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust in which the team ownership was previously held, becomes one of the single wealthiest team transactions in the history of sports.
"I am humbled and honored to be the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers," Mr. Ballmer said. "Clipper fans are so amazing. They have remained fiercely loyal to our franchise through some extraordinary times. I will be hard core in giving the team, our great coach, staff and players the support they need to do their best work on the court. And we will do whatever necessary to provide our fans and their families with the best game-night experience in the NBA."
Shelly Sterling and Ballmer had come to an agreement on the sale of the team back in the end of May, following the league's lifetime ban of Sterling's husband and co-owner Donald and a $2.5 million fine over a taped conversation of Donald making disparaging racial remarks that was released publicly. The league enacted clauses in its constitution and by-laws in relation to the detrimental effect on league business of Donald Sterling's comments, including possible loss of sponsorship monies and the potential to lose playoff games due to Clippers player boycotts.
After a bizarre back-and-forth that saw reports of Donald agreeing to the sale one day and threatening to sue his wife and take down the whole NBA the next, Donald and Shelly Sterling took their fight to probate court to have a judge decide if she was legally able to act on the trust's behalf to sell the team. Shelly had enacted a clause of the trust that enabled her to remove Donald as a trustee if he was found mentally incapacitated by two independent licensed doctors. Shelly had taken such action and the probate court made an initial ruling two weeks ago that she had done everything legally.
Interestingly, the probate court judge presiding over the hearing, Judge Michael Levanas, had filed the written order of his ruling last Thursday but then inexplicably vacated the order late Friday evening. The thought, in some legal circles, was that there was concern over Levanas' evoking of the rarely used Section 1310(b) of the California Probate Code, which essentially barred any legal appeals from Donald Sterling from interfering with the sales transaction being completed and the NBA approving Ballmer as new Clippers owner.
Levanas used the legal move because he felt that Donald's attempts were extraordinarily harmful to the trust. There was concern, though, that the section might not apply in this case and could serve as grounds to dismiss the ruling on appeal. Donald Sterling legally has two weeks in which to appeal Levanas' initial ruling, the deadline of which is this coming Wednesday.
Bolstered by the court ruling, which will be final and official tomorrow, the NBA has now swiftly given approval. Originally expected to vote on the sale at a June 15th meeting, the probate case pushed the decision. As part of the agreement between Shelly and Ballmer, an additional one-month period was allowed in the case of any legal opposition, moving the deadline for approval to August 15th. If league approval was not given by Friday, the sales transaction would have been voided and a new agreement would have to have been negotiated.
In addition to being approved as owner, as single member of the ownership group, the NBA also appointed Ballmer governor of the team.
While the legal fireworks between Donald Sterling and the league have yet to subside, he has officially been removed as owner of the team. Legally, he can now only fight for monetary damages. A pending antitrust lawsuit filed by Donald against Shelly Sterling, Adam Silver, and the Board of Governors of the NBA was met with a countersuit by the league on Tuesday.
As for Seattle, Steve Ballmer is now officially off the table as an investor in the effort to revive the SuperSonics. He will, though, be a powerful advocate for the cause within the league, as he firmly believes the city deserves a team again. Lest anyone think Ballmer is moving the Clippers to Seattle, he has concretely denied such a move, essentially admitting that his exceptional payment -- many would say overpayment -- for the team prices him out of doing so. Plus, hard to pass up being in as strong a market as the number 2 in the country.
Ballmer to Clippers is disappointing to Sonics fans, but now they have among owners powerful voice for Seattle as an NBA city. #NBAexpansion
— Michael McCann (@McCannSportsLaw) August 12, 2014
The Clippers will remain in Los Angeles, and as of Tuesday, they have a new owner.
UPDATE: 12:15 PM
It appears that the vote to approve the sale of the Clippers actually occurred last week, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN LA.
The NBA owners voted electronically last week to approve Ballmer. I'm told it was unanimous.
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) August 12, 2014
Further thoughts on the severe unlikelihood that Ballmer ever moves the Clippers to Seattle. In speaking with Shelburne, he had this to say:
"There's absolutely no thought to moving the Clippers. There's a hundred reasons [not to move the Clippers]. One, The Clippers are more valuable in in Los Angeles. It's a phenomenal city, a phenomenal market, phenomenal everything. Two, I like Los Angeles and there's an opportunity to spend some time there in addition to Seattle, that is phenomenal. The NBA has made it clear they want fan bases to be able to keep their teams. I know that firsthand, because we did take a whirl at moving Sacramento and that didn't work. I'm all in on the Los Angeles Clippers. We're moving forward. We've got to work to be the best we can be to take advantage of all the assets in the community. the draw that I think it is and can be for players who want to play in such an awesome place to live, I think it's just phenomenal."