Sale of Clippers to ex-Microsoft CEO a done deal? Not quite

The news that former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has reportedly won a bidding war to purchase the Clippers can be greeted in either one of two ways: with joyful glee or an uncertain shrug.

Like everything else related to the team and its ownership melodrama, nothing is certain until it’s certain.

Here’s what we know: Clippers co-owner Shelly Sterling, the wife of deposed owner Donald Sterling, has reportedly agreed to sell the team just a few days before an NBA hearing to remove the Sterling family from ownership, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But does that mean it’s a done deal? Probably not. The Clippers are denying there’s an agreement to sell, and, well, Donald Sterling has yet to fire another salvo.

So while Clippers fans and players may rejoice at the prospect of a new owner, there is no assurance this thing is over, and it may not be for quite a while.

But at least we know this: Ballmer’s $2-billion bid, if it’s approved, proves the Clippers are a valuable commodity, worth roughly four times what the Milwaukee Bucks sold for earlier this month.

Report: Ballmer appears to win Clippers bidding war with $2B offer
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Ballmer, who is worth a reported $20 billion, reportedly came in higher than two other groups, one that included Los Angeles-based investors Tony Ressler and Bruce Karsh and another headed by entertainment mogul David Geffen and executives from the Guggenheim Group, which owns the Dodgers. Those two offers were $1.6 billion and $1.2 billion, respectively, according to the Times.

If Clippers fans have a concern, it’s whether Ballmer intends to keep the team in Los Angeles. He has said he has no plans to move the franchise to Seattle because its value would decrease, but he was part of a group that tried to buy the Sacramento Kings a year ago with the intention of moving them to the Northwest before his bid was rejected by NBA owners.

That’s a long-term worry. Short term is what happens next. Donald Sterling, who was ousted after making racially insensitive comments that went public, has waffled about his intentions to sell the team. He has gone back and forth for several weeks, indicating he might yield to pressure to sell, then vowing to fight, then giving his wife permission to find an owner, then sending a letter to NBA commissioner Adam Silver saying he would fight to keep his team.

So while it may sound as if the Clippers will soon be under new ownership, in fact, they are probably in limbo. We can assume that Sterling’s lawyer, Maxwell Blecher, will be heard from very soon, most likely to insist that his client won’t surrender until he’s had a chance to pull everyone into court.

To its credit, the NBA is moving forward at full speed. Had Shelly Sterling not reached an agreement with Ballmer, the league would have convened in New York next week to vote on officially removing the Sterlings as owners. Then the league, not the Sterlings, would have found a buyer.

Presumably, that won’t happen. The Clippers have been sold. Or have they?

Like a primetime soap opera, there are more twists and turns ahead.