The NBA appears to have yet another legal fight on their hands, as Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has reportedly decided to pursue a $1 billion federal lawsuit against the league after pulling his support for the sale of the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
On June 4, it was announced that Sterling agreed to let his wife, Shelly Sterling, sell the Clippers for $2 billion. Now, it seems the owner has changed his mind.
While Donald Sterling’s attorney, Maxwell Blecher, had previously said that his client agreed to sell the team, doing so was never the owner’s intention. According to the New York Times, Shelly Sterling forced the hand of her estranged husband. After Donald Sterling refused to accept Ballmer’s $2 billion bid, his wife’s lawyer, Pierce O’Donnell, informed Blecher that the owner’s consent wasn’t needed, because he had “cognitive impairment.”
Thirteen days before Mrs. Sterling and Ballmer unofficially agreed upon the sale of the team, Donald Sterling had an appointment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. At the facility, he underwent neurological testing to determine the state of his mental health. The New York Times reports that two neurologists determined the 80-year-old has been affected by cognitive impairment, making Shelly Sterling the sole trustee of the Sterling Family Trust.
“He told me he was going to see the doctor and it sounded like it was because of the loving wife who was concerned for him,” Blecher said, via the Los Angeles Times. “But it turns out, she did not level with him and he did not see it coming. I don't think he thought this was in the arsenal of things they would throw at him.”
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Despite the determinations made on Sterling’s mental state, the owner is looking to fight to maintain control of the club. Not only is Sterling suing the NBA for trying to force him out of the league, but Blecher suggested to ESPN that Donald Sterling would contest Shelly Sterling’s handling of the sale in probate court on Tuesday.
It might be difficult for Sterling to keep the Clippers if he has been found to be mentally unfit. Blecher, though, told CNN that descriptions of Sterling’s mental state have been exaggerated, claiming he has “modest mental impairment” and is “far from incapacitated.”
“I don’t think that a lawsuit from Donald Sterling is going to change the way that the NBA handles the sale of the Clippers in any manner," said Marc Edelman, a sports law professor at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College. "The fact that Shelly Sterling has agreed to indemnify the NBA for any legal challenge, even one brought by Donald Sterling, places the league in a position with minimal financial risk but continuing to pursue its current course of action.”
Donald Sterling, who was banned from the NBA and fined the league's maximum amount of $2.5 million, released a statement to NBC News, explaining his decision to fight the sale.
I would like to clarify some issues regarding the Los Angeles Clippers and affiliated matters. From the onset, I did not want to sell the Los Angeles Clippers. I have worked for 33 years to build the Team.
To be clear, I am extremely sorry for the hurtful statements I made privately. I made those statements in anger and out of jealousy all in the context of a private conversation. While this is not an excuse for the statements, like every other American, I never imagined that my private conversation would be made public.
Many things have been said about me in the media which are not true. I believe that Adam Silver acted in haste by illegally ordering the forced sale of the Clippers, banning me for life from the NBA and imposing the fine. Adam Silver's conduct in doing so without conducting any real investigation was wrong.
The action taken by Adam Silver and the NBA constitutes a violation of my rights and fly in the face of the freedoms that are afforded to all Americans.
I have decided that I must fight to protect my rights. While my position may not be popular, I believe that my rights to privacy and the preservation of my rights to due process should not be trampled.
I love the team and have dedicated 33 years of my life to the organization. I intend to fight to keep the team.