When the LA Times first broke the story that Steve Ballmer had purchased the Los Angeles Clippers for a record $2 billion there was plenty of confusion as to exactly what had happened. Several more hours into the story, the Times needs to be commended for getting the details at least mostly right.
Late last night, Shelly Sterling released a statement announcing that she, acting as the sole trustee of the Trust that owns the team, had indeed sold the Clippers to Ballmer. An agreement that was signed by both Shelly Sterling and Ballmer will now be sent directly to the NBA for league approval.
It remains unclear however exactly where Donald Sterling fits into this scenario. Shelly is clearly acting on the assumption that she does not need his approval in order to sell the team. Donald and his lawyers seem to believe otherwise.
We know that Donald did sign a document last week authorizing Shelly to negotiate the sale. DTS has since disavowed that document, saying that he changed his mind, though he does not deny that he signed it. Even so, it's not clear whether that document itself is enough to allow the sale of the team without Donald's final signature -- there could certainly be a distinction between negotiating a sale and actually finalizing a sale.
Ramona Shelburne and Darren Rovell of ESPN have introduced another element into the saga. According to their story from last night, Donald Sterling has been declared "mentally incapacitated" by "experts" making Shelly the sole trustee. If indeed DTS is no longer a decision-maker for the trust based on his mental state, then it may indeed be entirely up to Shelly to sell the team.
So that's where we are. Shelly Sterling is acting on the assumption that Donald has no authority in this matter. She has a binding agreement with Steve Ballmer that has been submitted to the NBA. Just how binding that agreement is will of course depend on whether others agree that Shelly has the authority she maintains she has. Donald for one does not appear to agree on that matter. The NBA of course will still need to approve the sale, but they've already vetted Ballmer as a potential owner when he was part of the Seattle group that tried to purchase the Kings, and beyond additional assurances that he has no intention to move the team out of Los Angeles, approving Ballmer and the sale should be a slam dunk.
The June 3rd hearing on the league's actions against Sterling is bearing down, which is why all of this is happening so quickly. The league would dearly love to approve this sale before Tuesday and circumvent that unpleasant and unprecedented process entirely.
And the wild card (or is it a joker?) of Donald Sterling is still out there. He may yet decide to let this go -- if he simply goes with the flow, he's in line for one of the great paydays in the history of pro sports, a $2 billion sale of a team he bought for $12.5 million with no money up front on the initial purchase. Or he could go down swinging. There's no telling how many people he'd sue if the sale goes through against his wishes.