HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Any hope that a Monday meeting between Donald Sterling and Steve Ballmer would provide some sort of resolution to the Los Angeles Clippers’ ownership saga, currently tied up in probate court, should be tempered with a cold dose of Sterling reality.
Nothing with this comes quickly or definitively.
The process of separating Sterling from the Clippers has had more starts, stops and resets than anyone could have imagined when Shelly Sterling signed an agreement on May 29 to sell the team for $2 billion to Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO.
Monday’s meeting, after court adjourned, between the Clippers’ current owner and the team’s possibly future one sent a buzz around the basketball world. But, by now, we all should realize that Donald Sterling’s mood and mind changes on a dime. There is no need to read too much into “friendly” talks between the two men. Not when there is so much that could change throughout the course of this probate hearing, which continues Tuesday and Wednesday with closing arguments scheduled for Monday.
The most optimistic of observers held out hope that a settlement might have been reached after the meeting. That is, undoubtedly, the preferred outcome of many.
But just last week NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he was not certain that new ownership would be in position at the start of the 2014-15 season. The sale agreement between Shelly Sterling and Ballmer mandated that the sale close by July 15, with a possible one month extension built into the deal. If the matter isn’t resolved by Sept. 15 the NBA has the option of resuming the termination proceedings and the sale of the team.
Our David Aldridge asked and answered the bigger and perhaps even better question before Monday’s meeting: What happens if Donald or Shelly Sterling is still in charge of the Clippers when training camp starts?
There is another provision that allows the parties another year to consummate the sale, subject to Ballmer’s and the league’s approval. That would, of course, mean that Shelly or Donald Sterling, depending on what the probate judge decides, could still own the team when training camps begin in October.
The NBA has said that that won’t happen, and that if the probate judge rules in Donald Sterling’s favor, it will quickly reinstate the termination hearing originally scheduled for last May, when the league sought to take the team from Donald Sterling after it determined he had made racist remarks in a conversation with a girlfriend. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Donald Sterling from the league for life and fined him $2.5 million.
The termination hearing was postponed after the league helped Shelly Sterling find a buyer for the team. Ballmer outbid several well-heeled prospective buyers for the Clippers, who set a record for highest price paid for an NBA franchise. Only the sale of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 for $2.1 billion is higher.
But when I asked Silver at his news conference last week if he could say with certainty that neither Donald nor Shelly Sterling would still be in charge of the team at the start of next season, he could not.
“No, I cannot say with certainty, and I can’t say with certainty because it’s in the hands of the probate court right now, and Donald is in the process of suing us for lots of money, and we’re defending ourselves against those lawsuits,” Silver said, referring to the $1 billion lawsuit Donald Sterling filed both against the league and Silver in June.
“The only thing I’ll say, and I appreciate that [Sacramento Mayor] Kevin Johnson, who’s been representing in essence the players in this matter and direct discussions with the players and the Players Association understand it’s very difficult to say anything with certainty in a situation like this,” Silver continued. “I can say with certainty we are doing everything in our power to move Donald out as an owner in the NBA, and as I said, if the probate ruling doesn’t go in our favor, we’ll recommence our procedures under termination.”
So while the Monday get-together made for promising headlines, it should be noted that there are reportedly no more talks planned, per The Los Angeles Times.
Plus, there is so much more ground to cover in the probate hearing. The chief financial officer of Donald’s properties said in court Monday that Sterling needs the sale to go through to pay off some $500 million in loans — or he’d have to sell off a large part of his real estate empire.
That bit of news may provide some additional hope for those looking for a quick resolution to this mess. But there are almost certainly more twists and turns coming. That’s the reality.