SAN ANTONIO -- Steve Ballmer's reported winning bid to buy the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion could postpone a vote scheduled for Tuesday to rid the NBA of Donald Sterling by terminating the team's ownership, a league source told CBSSports.com Thursday.
Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft who has chased NBA ownership for years, has reached an agreement with representatives of Sterling's wife, Shelly, to buy the team for nearly four times the highest price ever paid for an NBA franchise, the Los Angeles Times reported. CBS News reported that Shelly Sterling has signed a "binding agreement" to sell the team.
After Sterling initially authorized his wife to sell the franchise, Sterling's attorney, Max Blecher, said this week that the billionaire has "disavowed" that agreement and will "fight to the bloody end." Sterling responded in writing Tuesday to the NBA's charge against him that his ownership should be terminated over racially insensitive remarks and other conduct that violated the league's Constitution and By-Laws and other agreements.
In another bizarre twist, ESPN reported Thursday night that experts in conjunction with the Sterling family trust have found Donald Sterling to be mentally incapacitated, making Shelly Sterling the sole trustee with authority to sell the team.
Officially, the NBA has been steadfast that it is moving forward with a hearing Tuesday in New York at which Sterling's fellow owners could terminate all ownership interests in the team by a three-fourths vote. But if a signed purchase agreement could be presented to the league prior to the meeting, the vote could be rendered immaterial to the league's goal of removing Sterling from the NBA.
Any agreement to sell an NBA franchise must be reviewed by the owners' advisory/finance committee, chaired by Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, and any prospective controlling owner would have to be vetted and interviewed by the committee. If the committee recommended to the full Board of Governors to proceed with the sale, it would have to be approved by a three-fourths vote.
Donald Sterling's lawyer spoke with multiple outlets Thursday and said he has not signed off on any sale and that he does not want to sell. Keep in mind, if NBA lawyers have serious doubts about whether Donald Sterling's lack of cooperation would scuttle the sale to Ballmer, the league would have to proceed with the vote and sell the team itself -- at the risk of legal action.
In any case, Ballmer is well known to the NBA owners who'd be voting on the sale, having tried unsuccessfully to buy the Sacramento Kings and move them to Seattle. League sources say any agreement to sell the Clippers to Ballmer would be on the condition that he would not move the team. The Clippers long-term lease with the Staples Center would be a serious impediment to such a move in and of itself.