TIME Basketball

Steve Ballmer Now Officially Owns the Clippers

Microsoft Opens New Center In Berlin
Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer speaks at the opening of the Microsoft Center Berlin on November 7, 2013 in Berlin, Germany. Adam Berry—Getty Images

The deal closed shortly after a court struck down a challenge from former owner Donald Sterling

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer closed a deal to buy the Los Angeles Clippers, the National Basketball Association announced Tuesday, ending a months-long legal battle to pry the team away from disgraced former owner Donald Sterling. The deal is reportedly worth $2 billion.

“The transaction in which Steve Ballmer purchased the Los Angeles Clippers closed today following the entry of an order by a California court confirming the authority of Shelly Sterling, on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust, to sell the team,” the NBA said in a brief statement.

In an effort to block the sale of the Clippers, Donald Sterling had challenged his wife Shelley Sterling’s authority to transfer ownership of the team. But that argument was struck down in court, clearing the way for Tuesday’s transaction.

Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA for life after TMZ leaked recordings of a private conversation in which he is heard urging his girlfriend at the time to avoid associations with black people.

The Los Angeles Times reports that NBA also filed a counterclaim against Sterling and the Sterling Family Trust on Monday, demanding compensation for the “incalculable harm” the controversy has caused to the league as well as the legal costs of the subsequent investigation into Sterling’s conduct.

TIME Basketball

Meet the First Woman to Run a Major U.S. Pro Sports Union

Michele Roberts
An undated photo of Michele Roberts. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher—Flom LLP/AP

Michele Roberts, star Washington D.C. litigator, talks about her humble beginnings, measuring success, and her changed view on race

“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about breaking a glass ceiling,” says Michele Roberts, the new executive director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA). She went ahead and shattered one anyway.

Roberts, who was named union chief early this week, is the first woman to head a players union for the top four U.S. pro sports leagues (basketball, football, baseball, hockey). Given the outsized impact of sports business on American culture, the importance of this appointment can’t be overstated. “Michele will inherently be a role model for girls and women aspiring to leadership roles in all sectors,” says Kathryn Olson, CEO for the Women’s Sports Foundation.

Roberts’ resume was too attractive to turn away. She was a star Washington litigator; Washingtonian magazine once named her the “finest pure trial lawyer in Washington.” Throughout her career, which began in the D.C. public defender’s office in 1980, Roberts showed an uncanny ability to connect with juries, a skill she hopes to transfer to the negotiating table.

“As a trial lawyer, you have to clarify minds, and change minds,” says Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, who recruited Roberts to the public defender’s office. “She does the homework, and understands the arguments that need to be made. There won’t be a time when someone across the bargaining table doesn’t say, ‘Wow, I learned something.’”

During the interview process for her new high-profile gig, Roberts’ personal history helped form a bond with the players. Like some of them, she came from humble beginnings. “She could identify with us,” says Roger Mason Jr., NBPA vice president. Roberts was raised in a South Bronx housing project, and became interested in the law after seeing her older brother’s friends get sent to jail. Often, her mother told her, they couldn’t afford good representation, and it cost them.

“I’m not going to say I was proud to be poor – nobody believes that,” says Roberts. “But I’m proud that my background guided my life.” She still keeps in touch with three children – all named after her – of acquitted clients from her public defender days.

Roberts attended a prep school in the New York City suburbs, and encountered the kind of racism that was all too common at the time. “Many people hadn’t had any contact with black people,” Roberts says during a Tuesday telephone interview from Las Vegas, where the announcement of her appointment was made. “They weren’t necessarily evil, just ignorant.”

For years, this experience framed her worldview. By 1988, she was leading the trial division of the public defender’s office, and the Washington Post magazine ran an extensive profile on her. She said in that story: “I liked school, and all I wanted to do was go to school, finish up and go to college. And then I went to prep school and met these creatures: The students and some of the professors were just blatant racists. And I didn’t know anything about that before I came there. I became more aggressive in my studies, because I refused to let any of these white folks think that I was stupid. It probably has some impact on how I behave in court. Most of my opponents are white, and there’s no question that I’m more aggressive when I’m dealing with them. I am immediately suspicious of white people. I just assume, for better or worse, that they have preconceived notions about the intelligence of black people. Thankfully, I am often proved wrong, at least by people in this office.”

When asked about that comment today, Roberts doesn’t run from it: she calls it her “genuine” feeling at the time, over 25 years ago. But after working in private practice, and at prestigious white-collar firms, since those days — and while further removed from her high school experience — Roberts says her views have “evolved.” She is far from “suspicious” of white people. “The very, very goods news is that’s no longer how I see the world,” says Roberts. “And I’m happy to say that.”

She’s also delighted that the players who hired her were blind to gender. “The only question in my mind, really, was, ‘Were they unwilling to give me a chance because I was a woman?’” Roberts says. “We had so many intelligent conversations about this issue. What’s most impressive to me is, once they saw my accomplishments and the value I can add, that didn’t stop them from making the offer, even while others may have predicted otherwise.”

Roberts is used to winning, and during the last round of negotiations between the NBA and its players, the union fell short. In the collective bargaining agreement that ended the 2011 lockout, the players’ share of basketball-related income declined, from 57% to 50%. Maximum guaranteed contracts were shortened, and harsher penalties levied on teams that exceeded the salary cap. Former executive Billy Hunter was fired in February 2013, after an investigation revealed questionable business practices.

With Roberts now at the helm, the union is ready to look forward. “This is not going to be Billy Hunter vs. the NBA,” says Roberts. “This is Michele Roberts and a team of gladiators. I don’t tout that I have some magic formula. That would be a recipe for disaster.” Roberts’ competitive flair has also impressed the players. (During her public defender days, she almost got a black belt in taekwondo. “But then I had to fight two 16-year-old girls at the same time,” Roberts says. “They beat the hell out of me.”)

“I understand that there’s going to be some level of winning and losing in any big negotiation,” she says. “In the end, I want my clients to be happy. If my clients got the best deal they could under the circumstances, I would consider it a win. I would consider it a catastrophe – and it never would happen – if my clients felt shortchanged in a negotiation.”

Both players and owners can opt out of the current deal in 2017. Although Roberts is not ready to talk specific strategies and priorities during her first full day on the job, it’s not difficult to read the signals — more than likely, the players will exercise that right. “When we speak about value, of course we feel we should be getting more,” says Mason Jr. If a work stoppage were to follow, both Roberts and NBA commissioner Adam Silver, whose popularity has soared since he took a hard line against Donald Sterling, will take their hits. Fans rarely seep themselves in the mind-numbing economic details. They just want to see basketball.

For now, Roberts – a lifelong hoops fan – is still riding high. “When I got up this morning, I giggled out loud,” says Roberts. “It was still true. I got the job.” And she does feel some weight of history. “I have two nieces that I worship,” says Roberts, who has never married. “And the pride I feel when I hear how proud they are of me is tremendous. It’s important for women to break barriers. But I don’t wake up and say, ‘Let’s break some barriers today.’ I wake up and say, ‘What do I have to do to best serve my client?’ And if I happen to break some barriers along the way, God bless me.”

TIME Basketball

Judge Rules Against Donald Sterling’s Move to Block Clippers Sale

Donald Sterling
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling watches the Clippers play the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles on Dec. 19, 2011. Danny Moloshok—AP

Clippers sale to continue

A judge has ruled against Donald Sterling’s attempt to block the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Judge Michael Levanas sided with Donald Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, who negotiated the deal and pursued the court’s approval of the sale, after the NBA fined her husband $2.5 million and banned him from the sport for life for making racist comments, the Associated Press reports.

Shelly Sterling also removed her husband from the family trust following two doctors’ opinions that he had Alzheimer’s disease and was unfit to make legal decisions. Donald Sterling claims he was manipulated and “blindsided” by the medical evaluations and had another doctor attest to his mental competency. He is expected to continue to fight the sale, as he has previously vowed.

[AP]

TIME Basketball

Clippers CEO: Doc Rivers Will Quit as Coach if Sterling Stays

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Clippers
Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers talks during a press conference prior to a game between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center, in Los Angeles, on April 29, 2014 Kelvin Kuo—USA Today Sports/Reuters

Interim Clippers CEO Richard Parsons described the possible departure of Doc Rivers as "a disaster"

Doc Rivers, coach of the L.A. Clippers, will leave if Donald Sterling remains owner, according to interim Clippers CEO Richard Parsons.

Parsons’ comments were made as he testified in a court case that will determine whether Sterling’s estranged wife Shelly Sterling had the right to sell the Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.

Donald Sterling faced NBA banishment after he made racist statements in April this year.

“Doc is troubled by this maybe more so than anybody else,” said Parsons. “If Mr. Sterling continues as owner, he does not want to continue as coach.”

Doc Rivers, who has coached the Clippers for just over a year, has been key in trying to sustain calm within the team’s camp.

“If Doc were to leave, that would be a disaster,” said Parsons. “Doc is the father figure, the one who leads.”

In a related development, Donald Sterling filed a new lawsuit on Tuesday against Shelly Sterling and the NBA commissioner Adam Silver. He is seeking damages for their allegedly defrauding him, violating corporate law and attempting to sell the Clippers.

TIME NBA

Donald Sterling and Steve Ballmer Meet for the First Time, Unproductively

A supporter holds a photo cutout of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling while standing in line for the NBA Playoff game 5 between Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles
A supporter holds a photo cutout of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling while standing in line for the NBA Playoff game 5 between Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles on April 29, 2014. Mario Anzuoni— Reuters

No progress was made on Ballmer's bid to buy the L.A. Clippers, but ESPN reports it was otherwise a "friendly conversation."

It was a private meeting between two men very recently and very publicly ushered from power: one the erstwhile leader of a once iconic tech company whose stock prices swiftly rebounded upon news of his resignation, the other the former owner of a basketball team whose departure from it only parenthetically had anything to do with basketball (in that his apparently racist vitriol was targeted at, well, people the color of some of his basketball players).

The latter, Donald Sterling, was banned from the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the remainder of his life after TMZ leaked a recording of some comments he made to his girlfriend V. Stiviano, concerning her friendship with black people. He’s consequently in the throes of selling the Los Angeles Clippers to the former, ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who stepped down from the company last year after thirteen tumultuous years at the helm, marked by the surge of the Apple Empire and the ultimate marking of his once-eminent firm as a brand that just wasn’t cool anymore. When all else fails, one supposes, buy a basketball team; Ballmer successfully made a bid of $2 billion to buy the Clippers within a month of the Sterling controversy.

The two men met at Sterling’s Beverly Hills home to negotiate the sale of the Clippers franchise together with Sterling’s wife Shelly. And while the crew reached no definitive settlement, ESPN reports that it was otherwise a perfectly pleasant conversation, considering Sterling’s notorious obstinacy on the matter.

It’s a trickier deal than just writing a check. Two years after Sterling bought the team in 1979, he granted co-ownership rights to Shelly, from whom he has been estranged since December 2012. Donald is banned from the NBA; Shelly is not. The NBA briefly considered snatching all license of ownership from the entire Sterling clan — their son-in-law, Eric Miller, has served as the Clippers’ “director of basketball administration” — but not before Shelly arranged the sale to Ballmer in late May. Donald condemned her actions, and a day later sued the NBA for $1 billion.

He’d drop the suit all of three days later, though he has since called his wife of 59 years a “pig.”

The warring couple met on Sunday to finally discuss business, two days before Shelly was to testify in the civil case between them over whether or not she was justified in her negotiations with Ballmer (she’ll be in court on Tuesday in Los Angeles). After a three hour conversation concerning all the tumult of the last few months — oh, to be a fly on that wall — the two invited Ballmer to come over the next day to further address the matter of the Clippers’ sale, which was supposed to have been finalized a week ago. It’s the first time the two men met in person to talk about the deal.

The NBA, meanwhile, twiddles its thumbs and waits. It’s widely assumed Ballmer will ultimately take the reins from the Sterlings, but if nothing’s certain by September 15, the league has the option to take matters into its own hands and sell the team itself, since the 2014-15 season will begin just six weeks later.

TIME NBA

Donald Sterling’s Lawyer Says Former Clippers Owner Is Mentally Competent

Donald Sterling
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling watches the Clippers play the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles on Dec. 19, 2011. Danny Moloshok—AP

Sterling's estranged wife begs to differ

The lawyer of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was banned from the NBA for life in April, said his client is mentally competent, according to a recent medical evaluation.

Maxwell Blecher said Dr. Jeffrey Cummings examined Donald Sterling and found him to be mentally sound, though Sterling does have some impairment common for his age, USA Today reports.

The exam results challenge the opinions of two doctors who found him mentally unfit in examinations that Sterling’s estranged wife Shelly Sterling helped coordinate.

Donald Sterling’s lawyers allege in papers filed Monday that she “blindsided” her husband in facilitating the two doctors’ exams and used the opinions to remove him from the Sterling Family Trust in order to sell the Clippers team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion. Cummings could become a witness in the trial.

“Donald should have been properly informed that the doctors were evaluating his legal capacity for purposes of determining his ability to continue to serve as Co-Trustee of the Sterling Family Trust, a position he had held continuously for many years,” reads the brief.

The lawyers of Shelly Sterling have denied the allegations.

[USA Today]

TIME NBA

Former Intern Sues Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling

Donald Sterling, V. Stiviano
Donald Sterling watches the Clippers play the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles on Dec. 19, 2011 Danny Moloshok—AP

The intern says the team never paid him for his work

A former intern for the Los Angeles Clippers is suing both the team and its owners for allegedly violating labor laws by not paying its interns, according to a federal class action lawsuit filed on Tuesday.

Frank Cooper says the Sterling Family Trust never paid him for the two months of work he did in the fan relations department, the Associated Press reports. Cooper says he worked 40 to 50 hours per week, calling season ticket holders and organizing basketball clinics. Cooper is suing disgraced team owner Donald Sterling and the Clippers organization for back pay, damages and attorney fees, according to the AP.

Sterling is currently embroiled in controversy over racist comments he made that were caught on tape. He has been banned from the NBA, but maintains that he will sue the league before he’s forced to sell the team. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has agreed to buy the team for $2 billion.

[AP]

TIME Basketball

Sterling’s Surrender Is Gift for the NBA

BASKET NBA RACISM CLIPPERS
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling attends the NBA playoff game between the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors on April 21, 2014 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. ROBYN BECK—AFP/Getty Images

On the eve of the Finals, the disgraced Clippers owner agrees to $2 billion sale of his team, and drops a lawsuit against the league

On April 29, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced that he was banning Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league for life, thanks to the racist remarks he made in a private conversation that were caught on tape, and broadcast to the world. Silver also said he was terminating Sterling’s ownership of the Clippers, forcing Sterling to sell a team he took so much pride in owning. On that afternoon, right after Silver’s press conference, if I would have told you that the Sterling family would sell the Clippers a little over a month later, for nearly quadruple the previous record price for an NBA franchise, to the former CEO of Microsoft no less, and that Donald, who’s fond of suing people into submission, would drop his outstanding legal claim against the league on the day before the start of the NBA Finals — that the mess would be pretty much over in early June — you would have called me hopelessly naive and even a nutcase. Rightfully so.

The NBA, it turns out, is living in dreamland.

Sterling is saving the league and its fans a massive headache, by agreeing to his wife’s sale of the team to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion, and by dropping the $1 billion anti-trust suit he filed against the NBA last week. Reality must have finally set in for Sterling. Because based on some of the assertions coming out of his camp over the last week, it was becoming clear he had no shot in this fight.

For example, in an interview with CNN last week, Sterling’s attorney Max Blecher made this absurd assertion: “If the NBA would have done what I think they should have done and to say ‘we’re rejecting the use of this illegally used evidence and not violating charges,’ no sponsor would have left in the first place.”

Say what? First of all, sponsors started fleeing the Clippers right after they heard the tape, before Silver used “this illegally used” evidence to issue his punishment for Sterling. The sponsor exodus gave Silver good reason to boot Sterling: under the NBA’s constitution, conduct that has an “adverse affect” on the league’s members can result in termination of ownership. A loss of sponsorship money was a clear, quantitative measure of “adverse affect.”

And second, the thought of sponsors factoring the technicality of California’s recording law into their decisions is laughable. “Oh, so that tape is probably illegal because California requires both parties to consent to being tape-recorded. No problem: we’re sticking with you, Donald Sterling and your racist remarks!” Come on. Sponsors don’t care about these legalities because they know customers don’t care. Under Sterling, people wanted nothing to do with the Clippers — whether the tape was legal or not, his words were loud and clear.

When those kinds of absurd statements are part of your case, you don’t really have a case.

The $1 billion anti-trust suit wasn’t going anywhere either. How can it be credible, when it asserted that a forced sale of the team could result in a lower purchase price than a non-forced sale? The team sold for $2 billion, nearly four times the previous record for an NBA team. Was Sterling supposed to get $4 billion? If anything, the forced sale drove up the price, as big rich names rushed to outbid other big rich names. Ballmer paid a prestige premium to be the savior of the Clippers.

So here we are, the Heat-Spurs rematch tipping off Thursday night, these Finals ripe with anticipation. And we might not hear a peep about Sterling all series. Has any commissioner, of any sports league, ever had a higher approval rating than Adam Silver does today? Not that it’s guaranteed to last: this $2 billion price tag for the Clippers might cause Silver headaches down the road. Because come collective bargaining time, players always use rising franchise values as leverage. If they’re exploding, the players argue, we deserve a larger share.

But these worries can wait: the earliest the players can opt out of the current agreement is 2017. Let Silver enjoy his accolades. And it’s now time to get really excited about the Ballmer era in L.A. As a courtside entertainer/agitator, he might just rival Mark Cuban.

The team’s player development staff must be psyched.

TIME NBA

Sterling Agrees to Sell Clippers

Donald Sterling, V. Stiviano
Donald Sterling watches the Clippers play the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles on Dec. 19, 2011 Danny Moloshok—AP

The disgraced owner of the Los Angeles team has agreed to sell to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion and will drop his $1 billion lawsuit

The disgraced owner of the Los Angeles Clippers Donald Sterling has agreed to sell the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion, reversing his previous promise not to sell.

Sterling is also dropping his $1 billion lawsuit against the NBA filed last week, his attorney Bobby Samini told NBC News.

In an interview with NBC on Tuesday, Sterling said he is ready to “move on.” The 80-year-old drew widespread criticism and was slapped with a $2.5 million fine by the NBA and banned for life after audio recordings surfaced of him making racist comments.

Last week, the NBA canceled a planned hearing on proceedings to oust Sterling from his ownership of the Clippers.

The NBA board of governors must still approve the sale before it is finalized.

[NBC News]

TIME Sports

A Woman Who Says She Is Donald Sterling’s Ex Is Suing Him for Racial and Sexual Abuse

Donald Sterling, V. Stiviano
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, right, and V. Stiviano, left, watch the Clippers play the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles on Monday, Dec. 19, 2011. Danny Moloshok—AP

The disgraced L.A. Clippers owner is alleged to have told her that black people do nothing but "sit at home and smoke dope"

A woman claiming to be the ex-lover of Donald Sterling, the disgraced basketball-team owner who was recently barred from the NBA for life after making racist comments, launched a suit against the 80-year-old on Monday for alleged racial discrimination and sexual harassment.

Maiko Maya King says she faced a “steady stream of racially and sexually offensive comments” both during their claimed relationship from 2005 to 2011 and after, when she was employed by Sterling as a personal assistant and caretaker.

The lawsuit asserts that Sterling made comments about King’s African-American husband, like, “Why would you bring black people into the world?” and “I want to take you out of the black world and put you into the white world.” The former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers also allegedly said, “Black people do not take care of their children. All they do is sit at home and smoke dope.”

King further claims that Sterling “dangled money only if she would have sex with him” and that he would give her bonuses if she could “help him to perform sexually.” When she protested against the harassment on May 7, 2014, he fired her.

The complaint seeks compensatory damages for continued pain, mental suffering and extreme mental anguish.

[THR]

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