By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The estranged wife of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling on Thursday testified that her husband was eager for her to sell the NBA team and pleased when she was able to fetch a league-record $2 billion.
Shelly Sterling, 79, told a probate court in a trial over the disputed sale of the Clippers to former Microsoft Corp chief executive Steve Ballmer that her husband did not want the NBA to confiscate the team and sell it at auction after the league banned him for life.
“Every day we talked about what I was doing and who I had talked to,” Shelly Sterling said about courting bidders, adding: “He was on the same page as I was … He was very happy and very proud of me and said, ‘Wow, you really did a good job.’”
Donald Sterling, 80, was banned by the league for racist remarks made in private that were taped and published. He has been deemed by physicians to have early Alzheimer’s disease and unable to conduct his own business affairs, handing his wife control of the trust that owns the Clippers.
Shelly Sterling has asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas to confirm her as the sole trustee of the family trust that owns the Clippers and to back the sale to Ballmer.
Sterling has contended that his wife and her attorneys misled him into submitting to the medical examinations and has vowed to block the sale of the pro basketball franchise.
Levanas will decide whether Shelly Sterling acted in accordance with the family trust, and if Donald Sterling’s move to revoke the trust after the deal with Ballmer would invalidate the sale.
Closing arguments in the trial, which was scheduled to end on Thursday, were pushed back to July 28, ending any hope that the Clippers sale would be finalized by July 15, according to its term sheet. The next scheduled trial date is July 21.
Ballmer’s attorney, Adam Streisand, said Ballmer would extend the sale’s deadline to Aug. 15.
Shelly Sterling moved to sell the team because it would have had diminished value at an NBA-forced auction and that players did not want to play for Sterling.
“My fear was that the players weren’t going to play,” she testified. “They were going to strike. The sponsors wouldn’t sponsor.”
Under cross-examination, Shelly Sterling said there was no plot to oust her husband as trustee by arranging for doctors to examine his mental fitness.
“I wanted to know what was wrong with my husband and his mood swings, his yelling and cussing,” she said. “I had no other purpose in mind. He had given me permission to sell the team.”
Sterling, who was combative in two previous days on the stand, said he believes the Clippers are worth up to $5 billion.
After Thursday’s testimony, proceedings were postponed until later this month. Meanwhile, a deadline looms next Tuesday to approve the $2 billion sale. A lawyer for former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, the prospective new owner, says the offer could be extended another month as long as progress is being made in court.
The NBA has said it could seize the Clippers from the Sterlings and put the franchise up for auction if the deal is not approved by Sept. 15.
(Reporting by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Ken Wills)