LOS ANGELES — The Clippers moved on from months of ugliness Tuesday, with Steve Ballmer officially becoming the team’s new owner in a record $2 billion sale that ousted Donald Sterling as the NBA’s longest-tenured owner.
Sterling bought the team in 1981 for $12 million and presided over decades of losing seasons before engaging in a fierce legal battle with his estranged wife to hold on to his most prized asset.
The team said the sale closed after a Los Angeles court confirmed the authority of Shelly Sterling, on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust, to sell the franchise to the former Microsoft CEO. The NBA Board of Governors had previously approved the sale.
“Really excited — in a pretty hard core way — to continue the path to making the Clippers a better and better basketball team, and a better and better citizen of the Los Angeles community,” Ballmer said.
The bizarre drama began in April when a recording surfaced of Donald Sterling scolding his girlfriend for bringing black men to Clippers games. The audio spurred the NBA to ban Sterling for life and fine 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. The 80-year-old real estate mogul was roundly condemned. 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 permission to negotiate a sale but then refused to sign the Ballmer deal. He said he would sue the league instead and then revoked the trust, which his lawyers said effectively killed the deal. Shelly Sterling removed Donald as a trustee after doctors found he had symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.