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NBA Says LA Clippers Sale 'Resolved,' But Sterling Vows To Sue

Shelly Sterling says her family's trust has reached a deal to sell the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer for $2 billion. The wife of embattled Clippers owner Donald Sterling issued a news release announcing a "binding contract" Thursday night.

"I am delighted that we are selling the team to Steve, who will be a terrific owner," Shelly Sterling said in the news release. "We have worked for 33 years to build the Clippers into a premiere NBA franchise. I am confident that Steve will take the team to new levels of success."

Update at 7:10 p.m. ET: NBA Says Sale Resolved; Sterling's Attorney Vows To Sue

"The NBA, Shelly Sterling and the Sterling Family Trust today resolved their dispute over the ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers," the NBA said in a statement. "Under the agreement, the Clippers will be sold to Steve Ballmer, pending approval by the NBA Board of Governors, and the NBA will withdraw its pending charge to terminate the Sterlings' ownership of the team.

"Because of the binding agreement to sell the team, the NBA termination hearing that had been scheduled for June 3 in New York City has now been cancelled," it said. "Mrs. Sterling and the Trust also agreed not to sue the NBA and to indemnify the NBA against lawsuits from others, including from Donald Sterling."

The statement came as NPR's Tom Goldman received word from Sterling's attorney that his client would sue the NBA for $1 billion in damages for terminating his ownership of the the team.

Tom says: "I communicated with Donald Sterling's attorney Max Blecher via email. He confirms there will be a lawsuit filed in federal court in Los Angeles."

The lawsuit is "based on multiple counts, including antitrust violations, invasion of constitutional rights, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty," Tom says.

"This is a lawsuit against the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver, who of course banned Sterling for life, fined him $2.5 million and is in the process of trying to remove Donald Sterling from the ownership of the Clippers," he says.

Update at 2 p.m. ET: NBA Says It Has Been Informed

The NBA was informed of the proposed sale last night, but its owners still plan to meet next week. League communications executive Mike Bass issued a statement about the proposed sale:

"Commissioner [Adam] Silver has consistently said the preferred outcome to the Clippers proceeding would be a voluntary sale of the team. Shelly Sterling advised the NBA last night that an agreement had been reached with Steve Ballmer, and the NBA Advisory/Finance Committee met via conference call this morning to discuss these developments. We await the submission of necessary documentation from Mrs. Sterling. In the meantime, the June 3 special meeting of the NBA Board of Governors remains as scheduled."

Our original post continues:

Before any sale of the team becomes official, it would require approval from the NBA's Board of Governors.

As TNT basketball analyst David Aldridge notes, the deal also needs the backing of Donald Sterling, as the team's majority owner. Speaking about the reported deal last night, Aldridge said it was too early to say the deal is done. He noted that Sterling has recently signaled that he's willing to fight the NBA.

"Until Donald Sterling says, 'I am going to sell the team, and I am going to sell the team to Steve Ballmer,' none of this matters," Aldridge said in a TNT broadcast archived by league website NBA.com.

A report by The Los Angeles Times hints at a possible family drama playing out behind the scenes:

"Donald Sterling's lawyers have asserted that he needs a final sign-off before the team can be sold. However, according to two media reports, Shelly Sterling has said her husband was not capable of making the decision to sell the team. The Times has not verified that report."

News of the potential sale comes days before the NBA's Board of Governors is scheduled to meet on Tuesday to vote on whether to take control of the team away from the Sterling family.

The $2 billion sales price would set a new NBA record, dwarfing the $550 million paid for the Milwaukee Bucks last month. When he bought the then-San Diego Clippers back in 1981, Sterling reportedly paid $12.5 million.

If the new Clippers sale comes to pass, it would more than double the estimated price several experts had been throwing around since Sterling first came under pressure to sell. Estimates of the team's value had ranged from $700 million to around $1 billion. The price tag is also roughly equal to the most recent estimate of Sterling's net worth by Forbes.

Reports of the sale come a week after news emerged that Sterling had agreed to let his wife negotiate a deal to sell the team. And it comes almost exactly one month after the NBA hit Sterling with a lifetime ban and a $2.5 million fine in the fallout that followed a secret recording of him making racist remarks.

In the news release announcing the deal to sell the team, prospective new owner Ballmer said, "I will be honored to have my name submitted to the NBA Board of Governors for approval as the next owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. 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."

Citing an "an individual with knowledge of the negotiations," the AP says Ballmer recently visited Shelly Sterling:

"Ballmer beat out bids by Guggenheim Partners and a group including former NBA All-Star Grant Hill after presenting an 'all-around superior bid,' the individual said. Ballmer made more than an hour-long personal visit to Shelly Sterling's Malibu home Sunday and laid out his plan."

Ballmer would become the second Microsoft veteran to own an NBA team: Company co-founder Paul Allen owns the Portland Trailblazers.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.