LOS ANGELES — Former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has won a frenetic bidding war for ownership of the Clippers with a $2 billion offer that would set a record price for an NBA team, according to numerous reports.
Shelly Sterling reached an agreement late Thursday with Ballmer, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, ESPN, the Associated Press and others reported. If approved by the league, the sale would end a troubling saga for the NBA and rank as one of the largest deals in sports history.
Ballmer emerged as the last suitor standing in a dizzying bidding process that started when the league announced last month that it would force Donald Sterling to sell the team after he was recorded making racist comments.
Shelly Sterling, Donald Sterling's wife and co-owner of the Clippers, signed the deal with Ballmer, 58, and their contract will be sent to the NBA for final approval, according to the reports. Ballmer was already vetted by the league in 2013 when he was part of an investor group seeking to buy the Kings.
But the deal faces possible obstacles.
Donald Sterling's position remains uncertain. He authorized his wife to negotiate with potential buyers, but she needed his power of attorney to sign off on an agreement. Donald Sterling's lawyer, Maxwell Blecher, said Wednesday that Shelly Sterling did not have it.
Blecher also said Donald Sterling wanted the NBA to drop its charges that he had violated the league constitution as incentive to agree to sell the team.
Donald Sterling has vowed to fight the league in its efforts to terminate his ownership of the team. He is scheduled to appear at a special hearing on Tuesday to answer to charges that he damaged the NBA by making racist statements on a recording. He was banned from the league for life last month.
Commissioner Adam Silver said last week that he would prefer the Sterlings to sell the team voluntarily. A vote of the league's other owners could force them to sell.
The $2 billion price tag would be the most paid for an NBA team, far exceeding the $550 million the Bucks recently sold for. The Clippers' Los Angeles neighbors, the Dodgers, sold for $2.15 billion two years ago.
But a critical difference is the Dodgers' buyers received much more for their money: the team, as well as Dodger Stadium; an expiring local TV deal that the new owners flipped into a long-term, multibillion-dollar payout from Time Warner Cable to start their own network; and a joint venture on the parking lots and land around the stadium with former owner Frank McCourt.
Three bidders had emerged as the top contenders for the team before Ballmer won the auction. One group included Oprah Winfrey; entertainment mogul David Geffen; Larry Ellison, the software tycoon who runs Oracle and made a losing bid to buy the Warriors; and Mark Walter and Todd Boehly, two of the principals of Guggenheim Partners, who put together the group that acquired the Dodgers two years ago.
A second group included Antony P. Ressler, who runs the private equity firm Ares Management, and former NBA player Grant Hill.
Ballmer submitted a bid without any partners. His net worth is estimated at $20 billion by Forbes. He grew up in Detroit, the son of a Ford Motor Co. manager, and still favors U.S. cars.
He tried unsuccessfully to bring an NBA franchise back to Seattle in 2013 as part of an investor group seeking to buy the Kings.
The $1.1 billion paid for the Dolphins in 2009 is the peak price for a NFL team.