Ex-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s involvement with the NBA may finally have reached its official end. Sterling settled his lawsuit against the NBA and his estranged wife Shelly on Friday, effectively ending a saga that began with the release of racist recordings in April 2014. Sterling was banned from the NBA for life shortly after that news broke and began his lawsuit against the league when his wife agreed to sell the Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer that May.
Details of the settlement were not made available by either side. Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times broke the story and has more details:
“Donald is pleased with the outcome and is looking forward to focusing on future endeavors,” [his lawyer Bobby] Samini wrote. […]
NBA spokesman Mike Bass said: “We are pleased that Mr. Sterling has dropped his lawsuit and that this matter is now over.”
As part of the sale agreement, Shelly Sterling indemnified the league against litigation by her husband. About $1 billion from the transaction remained in an NBA-controlled escrow account pending the lawsuit’s resolution. That meant Sterling was, in essence, suing himself.
U.S. District Judge Fernando M. Olguin dismissed the lawsuit in March. The judge assailed it as “plainly insufficient” and “clearly implausible.” Sterling appealed the decision, undeterred by the latest in a series of legal defeats. But the 82-year-old’s attorneys didn’t file an opening brief by last month’s deadline. The matter concluded Friday with a three-page motion to voluntarily dismiss the case.
Sterling still faces a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court by two law firms that were part of his legal team during the high-profile probate court trial in 2014 that cleared the way for the Clippers to be sold. The firms allege Sterling owes them more than $271,000.
Sterling will surely be involved in more news stories over the next few years, but this settlement should finish his direct involvement with the NBA. While Ballmer’s agreement with Shelly Sterling did not sever ties with the family entirely — she is officially known as the “Clippers No. 1 Fan,” among other embarrassing concessions, thanks to the terms of the sale — the Sterlings are not exactly the centers of attention at Staples Center. Ballmer has made some questionable moves as owner, including introducing some terrible uniforms and an instantly unpopular mascot, but those are just minor embarrassments. Sterling brought palpable shame upon the franchise and league for decades.
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Sterling has not been missed. He was and presumably still is a thoroughgoing racist with a history of minority discrimination in his housing developments. Respectable American institutions are not supposed to welcome such people with open arms, and his presence in the NBA was always more tolerated than accepted. Silver’s decision to ban him was as much a relief for the league as it was a just punishment.
The Clippers host the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night at Staples Center. Do not expect a celebration of the settlement. The only positive is that it’s over.
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