Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling does not have the authority to stop a $2 billion sale of his team because he has been determined to be mentally unfit to make decisions related to the family trust, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports.
The Sterling Family Trust owns the team, with Donald and his wife Shelly each owning a 50% share. The trust spells out provisions and procedures related to the mental capacity of the trustees, and Donald Sterling did not meet the standard in a determination by experts, giving his wife sole decision-making power for the trust, the person said.
Shelly Sterling reached a deal Thursday with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to sell the Clippers for a record $2 billion. The contract was sent to the NBA for approval a few days before the league's Board of Governors was set to vote on whether to terminate the Sterlings' ownership of the team.
As part of the deal, Ballmer gets 100% of the team, though Shelly Sterling still could be involved in the franchise in some other capacity, the person said.
"Shelly Sterling was acting under her authority as the sole trustee of the Sterling Family Trust which owns the Clippers," said a news release issued late Thursday by Shelly Sterling's representatives.
"I am delighted that we are selling the team to Steve, who will be a terrific owner," Shelly Sterling said in the statement. "We have worked for 33 years to build the Clippers into a premiere NBA franchise. I am confident that Steve will take the team to new levels of success."
Donald Sterling's attorneys didn't return calls Thursday night from USA TODAY Sports. After Sterling authorized his wife in writing last week to sell the team on his behalf, his attorney this week said he had reversed course, did not want to sell and instead wanted to fight the NBA, which banned him for life on April 29.
But Shelly Sterling continued to entertain offers for the team even as her husband's attorney said he did not want to sell.
Now it's up to the league to approve the deal and possible further battles with Donald Sterling, if he chooses to fight to keep the team he bought in 1981 for about $12 million.
In a statement released through Shelly Sterling's law firm, Ballmer said he was honored to have his name submitted to the NBA Board of Governors for approval as the next owner of the Clippers.
"I love basketball," the statement from Ballmer said. "And I intend to do everything in my power to ensure that the Clippers continue to win – and win big – in Los Angeles. LA is one of the world's great cities – a city that embraces inclusiveness, in exactly the same way that the NBA and I embrace inclusiveness. I am confident that the Clippers will in the coming years become an even bigger part of the community. I thank Shelly Sterling for her willingness to entrust the Clippers franchise to me, and I am grateful to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and his colleagues for working collaboratively with me throughout this process."
Bank of America assisted the process, along with Shelly Sterling's legal team of Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger.
Married more than 50 years, Donald and Shelly Sterling said they are separated but have not filed for divorce. Their marriage and ownership of the Clippers has become a nearly daily public issue since last month, when a recording of Donald Sterling was leaked to the gossip site TMZ. In the recording, he is heard making racially charged remarks about African-Americans in a private conversation with his female companion, V. Stiviano.
While acknowledging his comments were "uneducated" and "hurtful," Donald Sterling said the recording was made without his consent and therefore was illegal and could not be used against him in any proceeding. It's not clear who leaked the recording, but it might have been prompted by a lawsuit against Stiviano filed by Shelly Sterling, who sought the return of assets given to Stiviano from her husband.
After the recording became public, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Donald Sterling for life, fined him $2.5 million and said he would move to force a sale of the team. The ban only applied to Donald Sterling, but the league said an ownership termination would apply to Shelly Sterling's 50-percent stake as well.