Judge OKs record-setting $2B sale of Clippers to ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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Judge OKs record-setting $2B sale of Clippers to ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
Shelly Sterling is congratulated outside the courthouse in Los Angeles on July 28, 2014 after a ruling was made in the case between her and her husband Donald over the sale of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. A California judge gave the go-ahead to the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, ruling that embattled owner Donald Sterling could not block the move. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Shelly Sterling steps to the podium to respond to questions from the media outside the courthouse in Los Angeles on July 28, 2014 after a ruling was made in the case between her and her husband Donald over the sale of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. A California judge gave the go-ahead to the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, ruling that embattled owner Donald Sterling could not block the move. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Shelly Sterling reacts while facing the media outside the courthouse in Los Angeles on July 28, 2014 after a ruling was made in the case between her and her husband Donald over the sale of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. A California judge gave the go-ahead to the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, ruling that embattled owner Donald Sterling could not block the move. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Shelly Sterling reacts while facing the media outside the courthouse in Los Angeles on July 28, 2014 after a ruling was made in the case between her and her husband Donald over the sale of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. A California judge gave the go-ahead to the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, ruling that embattled owner Donald Sterling could not block the move. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Shelly Sterling reacts to questions while meeting with the media outside the courthouse in Los Angeles on July 28, 2014 after a ruling was made in the case between her and her husband Donald over the sale of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. A California judge on Monday gave the go-ahead to the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, ruling that embattled owner Donald Sterling could not block the move. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
With her attorney Pierce O'Donnell, right, Shelly Sterling, center, talks to reporters after a judge ruled in her favor and against her estranged husband, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, in his attempt to block the $2 billion sale of the NBA basketball team, outside Los Angeles Superior Court, Monday, July 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 30: Steve Ballmer (L) and Eric Garcetti attend Game Six of the Western Conference Final during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center on May 30, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/GC Images)
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, right, and his wife Rochelle watch the Clippers play the Detroit Pistons during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Nov. 12, 2010, in Los Angeles. The Pistons won 113-107.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Los Angeles Clippers Interim CEO Dick Parsons speaks at a press conference on May 12, 2014 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Clippers owner Donald Sterling has offered his first public apology for racist remarks that saw him banned for life from the NBA. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Shelly Sterling, the estranged wife of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, arrives at a Los Angeles courthouse with her attorney Pierce O' Donnell, Monday, July 7, 2014. With the potentially record-breaking $2 billion sale of the Clippers hanging in the balance, a trial beginning Monday will focus on Shelly Sterling had the authority under terms of a family trust to unilaterally negotiate the deal. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Shelly Sterling, the estranged wife of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, arrives at a Los Angeles courthouse with her attorney Pierce O' Donnell, Monday, July 7, 2014. With the potentially record-breaking $2 billion sale of the Clippers hanging in the balance, a trial beginning Monday will focus on Shelly Sterling had the authority under terms of a family trust to unilaterally negotiate the deal. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 7: Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, left and his wife Shelly pose for a photograph before his team played the Memphis Grizzlies in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2012 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer takes in a Clippers playoff game with NBA commissioner Adam Silver in May. Ballmer has reportedly agreed to purchase the Clippers for $2 billion, according to the Los Angeles Times.
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 27: David Geffen attends the Los Angeles Lakers vs Los Angeles Clippers game on October 27, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 24: Oracle CEO Larry Ellison watches the Los Angeles Clippers face the Golden State Warriors in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena on April 24, 2014 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, upper right, watches the Golden State Warriors play the Clippers during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, April 10, 2010, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
A Los Angeles Clippers fan holds up a t-shirt cursing the team's owner Donald Sterling durring game 6 against the Oklahoma City Thunder on May 15, 2014 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, in their NBA playoffs round two series in which the Thunder defeated the Clippers 104-98 to win the series by four games to two. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 15: Rochelle Sterling attends an NBA playoff game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on May 15, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 15: Rochelle Sterling (L) and Pierce O'Donnell attend an NBA playoff game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on May 15, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/GC Images)
OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 27: Shelly Sterling (C), the wife of Donald Sterling owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, watches the Clippers against the Golden State Warriors in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on April 27, 2014 in Oakland, California. The players wore theirs warm up this way in protest of owner Donald Sterling's racially insensitive remarks. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 29: Rochelle Sterling attends an NBA playoff game between the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on April 29, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/GC Images)
Shelly Sterling (R), wife of embattled owner of Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, watches Game 3 of the Clippers second round NBA playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder on May 9, 2014 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks to the media regarding the investigation involving Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling on April 29, 2014 at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York City.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver addresses the media about the investigation involving Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and accusations that he made racist remarks to a girlfriend. Sterling, a billionaire, will be banned for life in the NBA. Sterling has a controversial history in racially charged Los Angles with previous accusations of racism tempered by philanthropic work in inner city neighborhoods.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and former Los Angeles Lakers player Norm Nixon addresses the media during the press conference in response to the NBA's decision to ban Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life.
Former Los Angeles Lakers player A. C. Green and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar address the media during the press conference in response to the NBA's decision on Donald Sterling.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks to the media regarding the investigation involving Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Director and actor Spike Lee watches as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver addresses the media about the investigation involving Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Spike Lee attends the press conference as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver discusses punishment for Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
The Clippers wear their warmup jerseys inside-out prior to Game 3 of their playoff series against the Warriors in protest of owner Donald Sterling.
DALLAS, TX - APRIL 28: Members of the Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs wear black socks in protest of comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
Earvin 'Magic' Johnson Jr speaks at a press conference on student scholarships in Indiana on April 28, 2014 in Gary, Indiana. The NBA Hall of Famer held the press conference to promote a benefit to raise money for student scholarships in Gary. During the press conference Johnson also answered questions in regard to comments made by Los Angeles Clippers Owner Donald Sterling.
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling attends the NBA playoff game between the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors, April 21, 2014 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
In this Oct. 17, 2010 file photo, Los Angeles Clippers team owner Donald Sterling watches his team play in Los Angeles.
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LOS ANGELES (AP) - Embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling lost his attempt to block the $2 billion sale of the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

In allowing the deal to go forward, Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas sided Monday with Sterling's estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, who negotiated the record sale after the NBA banned the 80-year-old billionaire for making offensive remarks about blacks.

Shelly Sterling Reacts To Ruling


Shelly Sterling sought the probate judge's approval to ink the deal after taking over the family trust that owns the team because doctors found Donald Sterling had signs of Alzheimer's disease and couldn't manage his affairs.

The judge said Shelly Sterling had negotiated a good deal and the removal of her husband as a co-trustee was in good faith and not part of a secret plan to seize the team.

Shelly Sterling hugged her lawyer and wept after the judge explained his ruling from the bench.

"I can't believe it's over," she said. "This is the best thing."

An unusual provision of the ruling bars Donald Sterling from seeking a court-ordered delay of the sale as he appeals. His lawyers plan to seek permission from an appellate court to file an appeal.

Sterling was not in court for the ruling. Bobby Samini, one of his lawyers, said Sterling reacted calmly to the news and told his lawyers they had to keep battling on other fronts. Sterling testified during the case that he would fight the NBA until his death.

With lawsuits pending in state and federal courts, the ruling in Los Angeles County Superior Court is unlikely to put an end to the bizarre saga that began in April when a recording surfaced of Sterling scolding his young girlfriend for bringing black men to Clippers games.

The NBA moved quickly to ban Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million.

Sterling was apologetic after the audio recording went viral, but his mea culpa backfired when he criticized Lakers great Magic Johnson, who had been photographed with Sterling's girlfriend, as a bad role model for kids because he had HIV. Sterling was roundly condemned from locker rooms to the Oval Office, where President Barack Obama called Sterling's remarks "incredibly offensive racist statements."

With the NBA threatening to seize the team and auction it, Sterling initially gave his wife of 58 years permission to negotiate a sale but then refused to sign the $2 billion Ballmer deal, which would be a record price for an NBA team. He said he would sue the league instead and then revoked the trust, which his lawyers said effectively killed the deal.

The nonjury trial held over several weeks focused mainly on whether Shelly Sterling properly removed her husband as a trustee and whether her actions carried any weight after he revoked the trust.

Donald Sterling claimed his wife had deceived him about the medical exams. His lawyers argued Monday that Shelly Sterling's lawyers were in cahoots with the doctors who examined him and that his wife conspired with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to remove him from the trust.

"There's no evidence, I'll repeat that as loudly as you allow," attorney Maxwell Blecher said during closing argument, his voice rising. "There's no evidence that Mr. Sterling was incapable of carrying out his duties as a co-trustee."

Levanas said there was no credible evidence that Sterling was defrauded.

Blecher said he was deeply disappointed in the judge's legal analysis.

The ruling Monday was tentative until the judge files it in writing.

NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement that the league was pleased and looked forward to the transaction closing as soon as possible.

At the conclusion of his lengthy ruling, Levanas envisioned what might happen if Donald Sterling remained the owner.

Citing testimony of Clippers interim CEO Richard Parsons, he said the team would go into a "death spiral." Sponsors would withdraw, players would quit and coach Doc Rivers would leave.

"The Clippers would suffer a massive loss of value if the team survived at all," Levanas said.

The judge was adamant that a team owned by Donald Sterling would not draw a price anywhere near the "stunning" $2 billion pledged by Ballmer. Sterling, a lawyer who made a fortune as a landlord, bought the team in 1981 for $12 million.

"Ballmer paid an amazing price that can't be explained by the market," he said.

On the witness stand, Shelly Sterling was more credible than her husband, who was more evasive, gave inconsistent answers and presented wild fluctuations of damage estimates, Levanas said.

He noted that the couple presented genuine professions of love for each other despite Donald Sterling's outburst calling his wife a "pig" after she testified.

Outside of court, his wife said she thought her husband would be happy with the ruling. She said she thinks he will ultimately drop his antitrust suit in federal court against the NBA and the lawsuit he filed in state court against her, Silver and the league.

Her lawyer wasn't so sure. Asked what might stop the deal, Pierce O'Donnell said: "Donald."

"He never met a lawsuit he didn't like," he quipped.

Bruce Givner, a Los Angeles tax attorney who handles celebrity cases, said he thinks Sterling's lawsuits will fail and an appeals court won't care about the probate case.

"I think the sale is going to go through," Givner said. "I suspect the NBA is ready to move very quickly. They want to get rid of Sterling like a canker sore. Nobody wants him around except the people that are charging legal fees to continue this charade."

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AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch contributed to this story.

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