LA Clippers tussle: Ballmer agrees to buy team for £1.2bn – but it’s no slam dunk

Team’s ‘racist’ co-owner will fight former Microsoft chief’s record bid

Los Angeles

The former head of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, is to buy the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team for a record-breaking $2bn (£1.2bn.

Shelly Sterling, the wife of the former owner Donald Sterling, said in a statement that she had signed a binding contract for a sale of the Clippers by the Sterling Family Trust to Ballmer in what would be a record deal if approved by the NBA.

Mr Ballmer “will be a terrific owner”, Ms Sterling said. “We have worked for 33 years to build the Clippers into a premier NBA franchise. I am confident Steve will take the team to new levels of success.”

Ms Sterling negotiated the sale after her estranged husband, Donald Sterling, made racist remarks that were made public. The remarks included Sterling telling girlfriend V Stiviano not to bring African Americans to Clippers games, specifically mentioning Magic Johnson.

Ms Sterling’s statement noted that she made the deal “under her authority as the sole trustee of the Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers”. Mr Sterling’s lawyers contend that he is a co-owner and therefore must give his permission for the deal to go through. They also say he will not be giving it. “Sterling is not selling the team,” said his lawyer, Bobby Samini.

Mr Ballmer beat bids by Guggenheim Partners and a group including former NBA All-Star Grant Hill after presenting an “all-around superior bid”, according to one insider, who said Mr Ballmer visited Ms Sterling’s Malibu home on Sunday to lay out his plan, and “knocked their socks off”.

The amount was also the largest offer, and Mr Ballmer was one potential buyer to deal with rather than numerous members of a group.

Mr Ballmer said in a statement that he is honoured to have his name submitted to the NBA for approval. “I love basketball. And I intend to do everything in my power to ensure that the Clippers continue to win – and win big – in Los Angeles,” he said. “LA is one of the world’s great cities – a city that embraces inclusiveness, in exactly the same way that the NBA and I embrace inclusiveness.”

Though Donald Sterling’s lawyers say he will not agree to sell the team, a  letter obtained by the Associated Press dated 22 May and written by another of Mr Sterling’s lawyers says: “Donald T. Sterling authorises Rochelle Sterling to negotiate with the National Basketball Association regarding all issues in connection with a sale of the Los Angeles Clippers team.” It includes the line “read and approved” and Donald Sterling’s signature.

Mr Samini said Mr Sterling had a change of heart because of “the conduct of the NBA”. He said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s decision to ban Mr Sterling for life, fine him $2.5m, and try to oust him as owner was him acting as “judge, jury and executioner”.

“They’re telling me he should ... let them take his team because his opinion on that particular day was not good, was not popular?” Mr Samini said. “It doesn’t make sense. He is going to fight.”

It is unclear how the agreement will affect a special hearing of NBA owners planned for Tuesday in New York to consider the charge against Mr Sterling of damaging the league with his comments. A three-quarters vote of the 30 owners to support the charge would result in the termination of his ownership of the franchise.

AP

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