LOS ANGELES – The proposed $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers is now in nobody’s court.
With a deadline looming next week to approve the deal, a judge on Thursday delayed the next hearing. But lawyers said a deadline extension was probable.
Lawyers for disgraced team owner Donald Sterling told the judge more witness testimony was necessary but they could not return until July 21 because of personal plans.
So Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas put off the next hearing and scheduled further sessions that will culminate with closing arguments on July 28.
The fate of the Clippers is actually up to the NBA, which has banned Sterling from the league for life for making racist statements and has indicated it could seize and auction the team if a sale isn’t completed by Sept. 15.
Sterling’s wife, Shelly Sterling, testified Thursday that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told her several weeks ago that he would consider reducing her husband’s lifetime ban to a single year if he agreed to sell.
Sterling had seemed eager to find a buyer earlier this year but later turned against the idea, she said.
Sterling has now vowed he’ll never sell and is suing to block his wife’s single-handed deal to sell the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.
Shelly Sterling said she feared players wouldn’t play and sponsors would boycott if her husband held on to the team and that she kept Sterling informed of her search for a buyer.
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“Every day, he would ask me, ‘Who did you interview? What did they offer?”‘ she said.
Ballmer’s offer – which would be a record for an NBA team – was the highest of four offers she obtained.
“I thought it was fabulous,” she said, adding that she also personally liked Ballmer and even would have accepted a lower offer.
After hearing the offer, Sterling told her “he was very happy and proud of me,” Shelly Sterling said.
But when it came to signing off on the deal at the end of May, everything changed.
“He started screaming and cursing at me,” she said. “He said he’s not going to sell the team. He’s going to sue the league.”
In earlier testimony, two doctors hired by Mrs. Sterling to examine him declared that the 80-year-old had Alzheimer’s disease and was mentally incapable to continue acting as administrator of the family trust that owns the Clippers.
On the witness stand, Shelly Sterling denied that she hired the doctors because she was concerned about her husband’s mental state and not because she wanted him removed as a trustee so she could make a deal.
“I had in mind my husband’s welfare,” she said.
When she left the witness stand, Shelly Sterling walked over to her husband’s lawyer, Maxwell Blecher, who had been aggressively cross-examining her, and she hugged him. They both had acknowledged during testimony that they had known each other for at least 30 years.
The current deadline for Ballmer’s offer is next Tuesday, although his attorney, Adam Streisand, said outside court that there’s a provision to extend that date to Aug. 15 as long as progress is being made in court.
However, next Tuesday also is the day that the NBA is supposed to vote on Ballmer’s offer – and there is no deal without the judge’s approval of the sale.