LOS ANGELES (AP) The bizarre battle over the fate of the Los Angeles Clippers goes to a judge Monday and he may not have the final word on the dispute.
The story has taken one strange turn after another since a recording surfaced of team owner Donald Sterling dressing down his young girlfriend for bringing black men to Clippers games. The viral audio spurred the NBA to ban Sterling for life and fine him $2.5 million.
In the aftermath, his estranged wife of 58 years, Shelly Sterling, took control of a family trust and negotiated a record $2 billion sale of the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. With her husband contesting the deal, she went to Los Angeles County Superior Court to clear the way for the sale.
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Here’s a look at how the case has played out:
FIVE MINUTES LASTS WEEKS
The key issue in probate court is whether Donald Sterling killed the deal by revoking the trust after his wife removed him as a trustee.
Shelly Sterling acted after doctors found the 80-year-old billionaire had symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. A trustee can be removed if two doctors determine he or she is unable to manage their affairs.
However, the trust is also revocable, and Donald Sterling moved to break it about a week after his wife cut the deal with Ballmer. His lawyers claim that action undid the sale and the case shouldn’t be in probate court.
Judge Michael Levanas has said the trust was so clear that he ”could decide this case in five minutes,” but testimony has dragged out over two weeks.
He scheduled closing arguments Monday.
BLESSING AND A CURSING
Shelly Sterling said she was initially given her husband’s blessing to sell the team and he praised the deal she reached.
When it came time to sign it at the end of May, however, Sterling said he would not sell and would sue the league.
”He started screaming and cursing at me,” Shelly Sterling testified.
Donald Sterling testified that he offered to let his wife negotiate the sale because he believed she would retain an interest in the team.
Shelly Sterling’s lawyers argue that if her husband blocks the sale, it will hurt the family trust because there won’t be another offer as good as Ballmer’s, which is a record for an NBA team.
Donald Sterling said he can top the Ballmer offer by $10 billion by selling TV rights and winning an antitrust suit against the NBA.
Sterling eventually apologized publicly for the recording and said he was not a racist. Then he made matters worse by insulting Magic Johnson by saying he was a bad role model for kids because he had contracted HIV.
His erratic behavior in court drew laughs as he railed at the lawyer questioning him and fired back testy responses. He said Shelly Sterling had duped him into consenting to the medical exams. Before taking the witness stand, he kissed his wife then testified that he loved her. When she approached him in the courtroom the following day, he yelled, ”get away from me, you pig!”
If Donald Sterling wins the case, the NBA is likely to seize the team and auction it. If Shelly Sterling wins, the sale will move forward.
In either case, Donald Sterling, a lawyer who made his fortune on real estate, is expected to keep fighting. He has vowed to never sell and battle the NBA until his death.
Sterling, who tried unsuccessfully to move the case to federal court on the eve of trial, has lawsuits pending in federal and state courts. The most recent, filed this week in Superior Court, alleged that his wife, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the league committed fraud and violated corporate law in their attempt to sell the team to Ballmer.
WHAT’S UP DOC?
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he’ll pack his bags if Sterling remains the owner and there are fears that sponsors will boycott the team, according to Richard Parsons, the team’s interim CEO.
Parsons testified that the departure of Rivers would ”accelerate the death spiral” of the team and that other key players, including Chris Paul, would follow.
”If Doc were to leave, that would be a disaster,” Parsons said. ”Doc is the father figure.”