LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The estranged wife
of Los Angeles Clippers co-owner Donald Sterling can proceed with the
record $2 billion sale of the NBA team despite her husband's objections,
a judge ruled on Monday, in a likely coda to a case of lingering racism
in American sports.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas said the deal
struck by Shelly Sterling with former Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O> Chief
Executive Officer Steve Ballmer was permissible and could be
consummated even if Sterling, who has been banned for life from the
National Basketball Association for racist remarks, chose to appeal.
"She had every good reason to believe that Donald agreed to the sale
of the team," said Levanas, who added that he found Donald
Sterling's combative testimony at the emotionally charged nine-day
trial "often evasive and inconsistent."
The ruling was a major victory for an embarrassed NBA and Shelly
Sterling, who had asked the probate judge to confirm her as the
trustee of the family trust that owns the Clippers. She acted in May
to have her 80-year-old real estate billionaire husband removed when
neurologists deemed him to have early Alzheimer's disease and unable
to handle business affairs.
Shelly Sterling, 79, cried after the ruling and told reporters
outside the courtroom: "Either way we'd win. I am just doing what I
had to do."
Donald Sterling's attorneys said they would file an appeal of the
"He doesn't see this as the final battleground," said Sterling's
attorney, Bobby Samini. "This is one stage of a long war."
In an unprecedented move, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned
Sterling and fined him $2.5 million three months ago after his taped
private comments imploring a girlfriend not to associate with black
people, including NBA Hall of Fame player Magic Johnson, were
The majority of NBA players are black, and Clippers interim CEO
Richard Parsons testified that team sponsors were ready to leave,
head coach Doc Rivers could quit and players would refuse to play if
Sterling was able to keep the franchise he has owned for 33 years.
Under Sterling, the Clippers for decades languished as a league
doormat and afterthought to the marquee Los Angeles Lakers, but in
recent years they have added enough talent to compete in the NBA
Sterling had vowed to block the sale he initially blessed because he
said his wife improperly removed him as a trustee of the family
trust that owns the Clippers.
Shelly Sterling also said she believed her husband's ban from the
NBA would be lifted. During the trial, Sterling had treated her with
both love and contempt, calling her a pig and liar at one stage.