LOS ANGELES — The NBA called off a hearing to oust embattled Clippers co-owner Donald Sterling in advance of a vote on a potentially record-breaking deal negotiated by his wife, Shelly, to sell the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.
She negotiated the deal despite objections expressed through her estranged husband's attorneys. She said in a statement late Thursday that she agreed to sell the team to Ballmer "under her authority as the sole trustee of the Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers."
The NBA said in a statement Friday that the league, Shelly Sterling and the Sterling Family Trust had "resolved their dispute over the ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers."
"Under the agreement, the Clippers will be sold to Steve Ballmer, pending approval by the NBA board of governors, and the NBA will withdraw its pending charge to terminate the Sterlings' ownership of the team," it said.
The ownership hearing had been scheduled for Tuesday.
But minutes before the NBA's statement, Donald Sterling sued the league and commissioner Adam Silver for damages in excess of $1 billion in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. In the complaint obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Sterling alleged the NBA committed antitrust violations, breached contracts and denied his constitutional rights.
Sterling, 80, was stripped of his ability to act as a trustee of the family's fortunes, including the Clippers, after two neurologists determined he was suffering from dementia earlier this month, the Associated Press reported. He was deemed mentally incapacitated according to the trust's conditions, the Associated Press reported.
Sterling can try to reinstate his trusteeship by appealing to the California Probate Court.
His attorneys contend that as a co-owner he must also give his consent for the team's sale to go through. They say he won't be giving it. His attorney Bobby Samini said, "The assertion that Donald Sterling lacks mental capacity is absurd" and that he'll fight not to sell given the NBA's conduct.
The league's statement said that Shelly Sterling and the Sterling Family Trust also "agreed not to sue the NBA and to indemnify the league against lawsuits from others, including Donald Sterling."
Ballmer, worth an estimated $20 billion, said in a statement that he is honored to have his name submitted to the NBA for approval and thanked the league for working collaboratively with him throughout the process.
Shelly Sterling negotiated the sale after Donald Sterling made racist remarks that were made public. The remarks included Sterling telling girlfriend V. Stiviano not to bring blacks to Clippers games, specifically mentioning Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.
In Donald Sterling's 32-page response to the NBA's charges, he claimed the recording was illegal and that he shouldn't be punished for a private conversation. Sterling's cover letter to the response hinted at litigation.
"Therefore, I have no alternative but to exercise my legal rights," he wrote.
One of Sterling's attorneys, Maxwell Blecher, represented the owner in litigation with the NBA when he moved the Clippers from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984. The parties reached an out-of-court settlement in 1987 in which the Clippers remained in Los Angeles in exchange for $5.7 million, its share of expansion revenue from four new teams added to the league.