A wild day of reports that has revolved around a bidding war over the Los Angeles Clippers took a strange twist Thursday night, as ESPN reported that embattled owner Donald Sterling’s mental state could ultimately render any effort to retain the franchise moot.
According to the report, the 80-year-old Sterling was recently found to be incapacitated by experts — a diagnosis which gives estranged wife Shelly Sterling the sole authority to negotiate the sale of the club under guidelines of the Sterling family trust, which is the legal owner of the franchise.
This would explain the breakneck pace at which the bidding for the team escalated on Thursday, with multiple reports indicating that Shelly Sterling reached an agreement with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to sell the Clippers for $2 billion.
ESPN reported that not only was an agreement in place, but that an agreement had been signed by the trust and sent to the NBA for final approval.
Also on Thursday, Los Angeles Times reporter Andrea Chang live-tweeted from the Sterling family residence, in the process getting plenty of comments from a man she reported to be Donald Sterling’s attorney. The attorney indicated Donald Sterling’s insistence that he will do whatever he can to stop any sale of the Clippers.
Earlier Thursday, conflicting reports emerged about Ballmer, with the Los Angeles Times saying he appeared to have won the bidding war over the Geffen group (which offered $1.6 billion) and the Ressler-Karsh group ($1.2 billion). People familiar with both those offers said they were rejected.
ESPN confirmed that report later, saying that sources said the Sterling family trust has reached a deal with Ballmer.
The Associated Press reported later that Ballmer had reached a “binding agreement” to buy the team.
Donald Sterling’s attorney, Bobby Samini, made some comments Thursday, according to the LA Times, that seem to indicate a desire to be very much involved. “There’s been no sale,” Samini said, according to the Times. “There can be no sale without Donald’s signature.”
But the ESPN.com report, citing sources, claims that Sterling’s approval isn’t needed and that the agreement between the family trust and Ballmer will go immediately to the NBA for final approval.
The deal also needs the eventual approval of three-fourths of the 29 other NBA owners, but is expected to clear that hurdle as long as Ballmer reaffirms his pledge to keep the team in Los Angeles and not move it to the Seattle srea, where he lives.
The $2 billion price would be more than anyone has ever paid for an NBA franchise by almost a factor of four. The Milwaukee Bucks were recently purchased for a record $550 million.