To quote a respected citizen of Clips Nation, "Can it really be this easy?" Maybe it can.
The NBA announced this evening that they have approved the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Shelly Sterling, the estranged wife of banned Clippers owner Donald Sterling, brokered the sale without Donald's approval acting as the sole trustee of the Sterling Family trust which formally owns the team.
The NBA's statement reads as follows:
The NBA, Shelly Sterling and the Sterling Family Trust today resolved their dispute over the ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers. Under the agreement, the Clippers will be sold to Steve Ballmer, pending approval by the NBA Board of Governors, and the NBA will withdraw its pending charge to terminate the Sterlings' ownership of the team.
Because of the binding agreement to sell the team, the NBA termination hearing that had been scheduled for June 3 in New York City has now been cancelled. Mrs. Sterling and the Trust also agreed not to sue the NBA and to indemnify the NBA against lawsuits from others, including from Donald Sterling.
The fact that the NBA has cancelled the June 3rd hearing is the real news here. It's a signal that they believe this is the end game as the sale precludes the necessity of any further action against Donald Sterling. And you can rest assured that the Board of Governors won't be able to vote "Yes" quickly enough if it means (a) having Steve Ballmer join their club and (b) avoiding a nasty procedure in which they have to go on record as voting out one of their own. None of the owners wanted to establish the precedent of legally forcing an NBA owner to actually sell a team -- now they don't have to.
For his part, Sterling has announced that he will sue the NBA for $1 Billion -- which is pretty funny. At the end of the day, the league fined him $2.5M and banned him. The ban is essentially moot if he is no longer an owner -- and it's hard to see how anyone could justify a billion dollar in damages over a 2.5 million dollar fine. The simple fact is that the NBA would almost certainly win any lawsuit that made it before a judge given that their actions were pretty clearly justified under the NBA Constitution -- but in the end the league might just say "OK, don't pay your fine douche bag" if Donald will finally go away. But the actual sale is taking place completely outside of official NBA influence, so if the injustice to Donald is that he is being forced to sell, well in the end that has nothing to do with the league, so there's really no lawsuit there.
Donald Sterling's suit against the league has nothing to do with the actual sale. He could yet decide to pursue legal action there as well (it's another "kettle of fish" according to his lawyer) but there is also some indication that Donald would prefer not to sue his wife -- either a hint that he possesses some human feelings, or possibly a recognition that he's already in for a nasty divorce battle and this won't help matters.
Regardless, it seems as if Ballmer is destined to be the new owner of the Clippers -- a resolution to the ownership mess that is both faster and more positive than anyone could have hoped for. I for one never expected the situation to be resolved before free agency begins in July -- but now it seems that Ballmer will be well established as the owner in plenty of time to make decisions about contract offers to free agents, and more importantly, to parade in front of potential free agents as the deep pocketed, enthusiastic owner who is the polar opposite of the parsimonious and dour Sterling.
Is it really going to be this easy?