Steve Ballmer, highly excitable former CEO of Microsoft, has reached an agreement to buy the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion, outbidding other groups that included media moguls David Geffen and Jimmy Iovine.
Final sale papers were reportedly signed late Thursday night, with Shelly Sterling – wife of disgraced former owner Donald Sterling – acting as sole administrator of the family trust. She was granted the rights to negotiate directly with Ballmer and the NBA after Donald Sterling, 80, was found by experts to be mentally incapacitated, though according to the rules of the trust, a court hearing was not required to declare him as such.
The agreement will now be sent to the NBA for final approval, and Ballmer must be approved by three-fourths of the league's other owners. The reported $2 billion he's shelling out for the team is nearly four times higher than the previous amount paid for an NBA franchise, and is the second-highest amount ever paid for a U.S. sports franchise, trailing only the $2.1 billion price tag attached to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012.
"I am delighted that we are selling the team to Steve, who will be a terrific owner," Shelly Sterling said in a 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."
The sale is just the latest chapter in a whirlwind process that began in April, when Donald Sterling received a lifetime ban from the NBA after an audio recording of him making racist remarks went public. Commissioner Adam Silver had ordered the league's Board of Governors to force a sale of the Clippers.
That began a complicated process that included the league formally charging Sterling with conduct that "damaged … the NBA and its teams," a 32-page response from the owner, calling his punishment "draconian," and varying reports about Sterling's willingness to sell the franchise he's owned since 1981. It was also unclear whether or not Shelly Sterling had the legal standing to sell the team in her husband's stead.
While uncertainty swirled (as recently as Thursday, Sterling's attorney, Max Blecher, told ESPN that his client "wants to retain the team and fight the NBA's charges"), Shelly Sterling was negotiating with three-to-five serious bidders for the Clippers. According to reports, that included offers submitted by Geffen's group – for $1.6 billion – Iovine and L.A. investors Tony Ressler and Bruce Karsh, for $1.2 billion.
In the end, Ballmer, who had previously been involved in a failed bid to purchase the Sacramento Kings, won out.
"I will be honored to have my name submitted to the NBA Board of Governors for approval as the next owner of the Los Angeles Clippers," he said in a statement. "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."
Then, he presumably did this: