Steve Ballmer's bid to purchase an NBA basketball team for a record $2 billion has inched closer to fruition, with a California superior court judge ruling that Rochelle Sterling has the authority to sell the Los Angeles Clippers to the former Microsoft CEO. But the sale won't go through any time soon: Mrs. Sterling's husband, Donald Sterling, has a few more opportunities to squash the deal.
"This is a new day in Los Angeles and a new day for the Los Angeles Clippers," a lawyer representing Rochelle Sterling said. "So for the cynics out there, sometimes it works out O.K. This is a Hollywood ending."
Well, not yet it isn't. Donald Sterling, the actual owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, still has two pending lawsuits and can contest this week's ruling as well.
Mr. Sterling rose to infamy earlier this year when a girlfriend went public with secret recordings of him making racist statements, leading to a lifetime ban from the NBA and a $2.5 million fine. He had purchased the Los Angeles Clippers in 1981 for $12.5 million and spent the intervening 30 years fielding a variety of mostly-terrible and non-contending teams.
Despite being stripped of almost all of his authority over the Clippers by the NBA, Mr. Sterling has fought attempts to force him to sell the team. His wife and Clippers co-owner Rochelle Sterling moved to sell the team, and arrived at a record $2 billion offer from Mr. Ballmer in early June, pending approval from the league, which is a certainty.
After a series of lawsuits and back-and-forth decisions, Mr. Sterling sued his wife, the NBA, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver for damages, alleging that they defrauding him in pursuing the sale to Mr. Ballmer.
Despite the ongoing drama, Steve Ballmer believes he can conclude his purchase of the Clippers before the start of the next NBA season.
"We expect that we're going to continue to get grenades from all directions," a lawyer representing Mr. Ballmer said. "But I've been confident from the beginning about how this is going to work out, and I'm still confident ... We hope at this point that Donald [Sterling] realizes he can't run out the clock forever." (That's a basketball metaphor, by the way.)
So what's next? Once California superior court judge Michael Levanas signs a statement of decision in the next few days, Donald Sterling has 10 days to file his objection, and then later an expedited appeal to prevent the sale to occur while his appeal is pending. Mr. Sterling also has a federal lawsuit pending against his wife in which he asserts that she doesn't have the authority to sell the team. Given the timetables here, the soonest that Mr. Ballmer could purchase the Clippers is mid-September.
Mr. Ballmer has said that he will keep the Clippers in LA, despite the fact that his hometown of Seattle has been without an NBA franchise since the Sonics left for Oklahoma in 2008. The reason is simple enough: Only LA has a big enough media market to justify the record price he's paying.