Sterling Sues NBA for $1 Billion After Wife Sells Clippers

Friday, 30 May 2014 09:14 PM

 

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Donald Sterling, who has co-owned the Los Angeles Clippers with his wife since 1981, sued the National Basketball Association a day after she agreed to sell the team for $2 billion following the uproar over Sterling’s racist comments.

Sterling, 80, seeks more than $1 billion in damages, claiming the NBA violated his constitutional rights by banning him from the sport for life, fining him $2.5 million and taking steps to strip him of ownership of the team solely on basis of a conversation with his lover he said was illegally recorded.

Shelly Sterling and former Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer signed a contract five days before NBA team owners were set to vote on whether to force a franchise sale because of the recorded remarks that were publicized in April. The NBA said today that the June 3 meeting was canceled.

Shelly Sterling said in announcing the agreement to sell the team yesterday that she was acting under her authority as the sole trustee of the Sterling Family Trust. The Sterlings bought the then-San Diego Clippers 33 years ago for $12.5 million.

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Two neurologists have deemed Donald Sterling to be mentally incapacitated, CNN reported, citing two people it didn’t identify. There is a provision in the Sterling family trust that if either Donald Sterling or Shelly Sterling become mentally incapacitated, then the other becomes the sole trustee, CNN said it was told by one of the people.

 

Today’s complaint, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, lists Donald Sterling and the Sterling Family Trust as plaintiffs and names NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the association as defendants.

“Mr. Sterling’s lawsuit is predictable, but entirely baseless,” Rick Buchanan, executive vice president and general counsel for the NBA, said in an e-mailed statement. “Among other infirmities, there was no ‘forced sale’ of his team by the NBA -- which means his antitrust and conversion claims are completely invalid. Since it was his wife Shelly Sterling, and not the NBA, that has entered into an agreement to sell the Clippers, Mr. Sterling is complaining about a set of facts that doesn’t even exist.”

A joint statement issued by the NBA and the Sterling Family Trust said Shelly Sterling and the trust have agreed to indemnify the NBA against lawsuits by Donald Sterling.

Maxwell Blecher, a lawyer for Sterling, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the lawsuit.

The furor over Sterling began after TMZ.com on April 25 published recordings in which he told his female friend that he was bothered by her associating with black people in public and posting a photo on Instagram of herself and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson at a game.

The recorded remarks drew condemnation from President Barack Obama and fellow NBA team owners including Microsoft co- founder Paul Allen.

Silver banned Sterling from the league for life on April 29. The league on May 9 installed former Citigroup Chairman Dick Parsons to run the Clippers until the ownership issue is resolved.

Ballmer, 58, outbid at least four other suitors. Each of the bids shattered the previous record sale price for an NBA team of $550 million paid in April for the Milwaukee Bucks. Ballmer, with a fortune of $18.9 billion, is the 39th-richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He stepped down as Microsoft CEO in February.

Sterling has made conflicting statements about whether he would allow his wife to sell the franchise or fight their possible ouster in court. He signed a May 22 letter authorizing Shelly Sterling to negotiate with the league regarding all issues in connection with a sale of the team.

In a May 27 letter that served as his official response to the charges against him, however, he called the proceedings against him a “sham” and said he should be able to keep the team.

Pierce O’Donnell, a lawyer representing Shelly Sterling, didn’t immediately respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

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© Copyright 2014 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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