Nearly two weeks ago, it looked as if the basketball world was nearing its long, unfortunate, and disgraceful association with Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. His estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, had reached an agreement to sell the franchise to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for a record $2 billion, with the league's Board of Governors set to approve the sale. Mr. Sterling, apparently unable to control the deal due to being declared mentally incapacitated and unable to oversee the Sterling Family Trust, said he was almost ready to move on, and his lawyer declared that "all disputes and outstanding issues have been resolved between the couple."
Not so much. On Sunday night, Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal reported that Sterling was considering moving forward with his lawsuit against the NBA due to a refusal to drop the lifetime ban and $2.5-million fine levied against him by commissioner Adam Silver on April 29. On Monday night, Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com reported that Sterling and lawyer Max Blecher were going to continue with that $1-billion lawsuit:
The attorney for Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling said Monday his client has instructed him to pursue a $1 billion lawsuit against the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver, and withdraw his support for the sale of the team negotiated by his wife. "The deal is off," Max Blecher wrote in an email. [...]
Meanwhile, Shelly Sterling, Ballmer and the league remain confident the sale will proceed.
"Nobody doubts this thing will go through in the end. I guess it's just a matter of what mood Donald wakes up in tomorrow," one source close to the situation said.
Shelly Sterling indemnified the NBA from damages in future lawsuits from her estranged husband as part of the sale agreement with the NBA. She did so, acting as the sole trustee of the Sterling Family Trust, which owns LA Clippers LLC after two neurologists had declared Donald Sterling unable to conduct his own business and legal affairs.
The provisions of the family trust did not require a court order. To challenge her authority to do that, Donald Sterling would have to challenge her in California probate court, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Shelburne also notes that Blecher would not confirm if the lawsuit will continue due to the league's refusal to drop the fine and ban, but this turn of events is in keeping with Costa's earlier report. It's also not yet decided if Sterling will challenge the sale to Ballmer by taking Shelly Sterling to court for control of the trust.
On Twitter, Shelburne relayed an official statement from another Sterling lawyer, Bobby Samini:
Donald Sterling says "I am extremely sorry for the hurtful statements I made privately"— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) June 10, 2014
DTS "While this is not an excuse for the statements, like every other American, I never imagined that my (they) would be made public."— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) June 10, 2014
DTS "I believe that Adam Silver acted in haste by illegally ordering the forced sale of the Clippers & banning me for life from the NBA"— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) June 10, 2014
DTS "Action taken by Silver & NBA constitutes a violation of my rights and fly in the face of freedoms that are afforded to all Americans."— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) June 10, 2014
Donald Sterling "I have decided that I must fight to protect my rights"— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) June 10, 2014
DTS "While my position may not be popular, I believe my rights to privacy & preservation of my rights to due process shouldn't be trampled."— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) June 10, 2014
DTS "I love the team and have dedicated 33 years of my life to the organization. I intend to fight to keep the Team."— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) June 10, 2014
While Sterling and Blecher recently claimed to be done with their fight against the NBA, this change in approach should not come as any major surprise. Last Tuesday, the consistently litigious Sterling said that he was "OK" with the league and Shelly Sterling (in an admittedly confusing statement) even as other reports indicated that he was mulling a lawsuit against his wife, ostensibly in the hopes of saving a reputation that hasn't been in good shape for several decades. For that matter, Sterling has seemed undecided (to put it kindly) on the best method of handling the aftermath of his recorded racist remarks ever since they first became public in late April. When damage control involves simultaneous apologies and insults, it's a safe bet that any words are not bond until the ink is dry on an official statement.
In a typical lawsuit, the next steps would involve official filings and various other procedures. Unfortunately, this case has not progressed in any normal way and remains subject to change. We'll continue to update this story as it develops. Given the precedent of the last weeks, it's a safe bet that something will be altered soon.
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