Clippers fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Donald Sterling no longer owns the Clippers.
Judge Michael Levanas issued a tentative ruling today, saying that Shelly Sterling acted properly when she sold the Clippers to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion. Her husband, Donald Sterling, had argued that the team is his and only his to sell.
The judge also ruled that the sale could go forward even if Donald chose to appeal the decision, making it a total victory for the much put-upon Shelly.
The story is as old as time itself: Man buys basketball team, man gets recorded by a girlfriend saying horribly racist things, basketball commissioner bans man from basketball and threatens to sell the team out from under him, but not before man's semi-estranged wife sells the team instead, leaving everyone satisfied – or almost everyone.
That's just where the trouble began – at least the trouble at the heart of this trial. Shelly Sterling had a couple of head doctors examine her husband. They said he was coming down with Alzheimer's disease. Shelly used that information to get Donald removed as head of the trust that owns the L.A. Clippers. That gave her the authority to sell the team to the former head of Microsoft, Ballmer, for a whopping $2 billion.
Then all of a sudden Donald Sterling lost his shit, claiming that his wife – his darling, loving wife, of whom he's cheated on for decades – had tricked him into letting those doctors examine him, and that he'd been improperly removed from the trust. He wrote a letter dissolving the trust.
It was Judge Levanas' job not to figure out whether Donald is a nutter but to figure out who was legally the head of the trust and whether the Clippers sale was legit.
Essentially, it was a he said/she said tale. Shelly said Donald knew about the sale and was cool with it until she actually made a deal; he said that she snookered him and that he never wanted to sell, or at least not on the terms that were agreed upon.
Judge Levanas made it clear that he bought her story and not his. And, importantly, he ruled that the terms of the trust didn't require Donald Sterling to be informed that he was being examined, and that Donald did not have the right to dissolve the trust in midsale. It was a total victory for Shelly, who was surprisingly impressive on the stand.
And so it is that Donald Sterling "lost" the trial against his sort-of wife, and as a penalty will receive the sum of $2 billion, the highest fee ever paid for a basketball team.
Update 2:55 p.m.: Apparently the capital gains tax on the sale is $650 million! Yikes! On the plus side, that's a couple hundred million for the state of California.
Some reactions from the twittersphere:
Bottom line: This could not possibly have gone better for Shelly Sterling...and worse for Donald— Ben Bergman (@thebenbergman) July 28, 2014
Shelly Sterling is crying. "I'm just happy it's over. A great man will be taking over the team now."— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) July 28, 2014
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Shelly Sterling says she's sure Donald will drop other suits and that he's happy "We have love for each other" pic.twitter.com/eYGiroFO39— Ben Bergman (@thebenbergman) July 28, 2014
Shelly said she expects Donald's ban will one day be lifted and he'll be able to attend games again.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) July 28, 2014
Shelly Sterling and Steve Ballmer's lawyers said they expect the sale of the Clippers to go through by Aug. 15.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) July 28, 2014