The National Basketball Association said on Friday (local time) that it has reached an agreement with the estranged wife of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell the team, opening a new chapter for the franchise after 33 years under Sterling.
Sterling, 80, was banned for life by the NBA for racist remarks in a private conversation that were recorded secretly and leaked to the media while the Clippers were playing in the NBA playoffs. The news brought shame on the league, sponsors cut ties with the team and players considered a boycott.
Also on Friday, Sterling sued the NBA and league Commissioner Adam Silver in US District Court in Los Angeles for at least US$1 billion.
As a result of the settlement, the league cancelled its Tuesday hearing to terminate Sterling's ownership, avoiding a vote by NBA owners to consider removing one of their own.
NBA Executive Vice President and general counsel Rick Buchanan called Sterling's lawsuit baseless and said Sterling did not have any recourse since his wife had sold the team.
"There was no 'forced sale' of his team by the NBA - which means his antitrust and conversion claims are completely invalid," Buchanan said in a statement.
Sterling's attorney, Maxwell Blecher, said he had no comment on the NBA's move to tentatively approve the US$2 billion sale of the Clippers by Shelly Sterling to former Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer. NBA owners must still approve the sale to Ballmer.
As part of the deal between Shelly Sterling, the Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers, and the NBA, she agreed not to sue the league.
Donald Sterling has listed the Sterling Family Trust as a plaintiff in his suit against the NBA which alleges breach of contract, antitrust violations and violations for denial of constitutional rights, among other things.
A source with knowledge of the situation told Reuters that Shelly Sterling is now sole trustee of the family trust that controls the Clippers after physicians this month deemed that her husband has Alzheimer's disease.
Blecher did not respond to phone calls or emails seeking comment on Donald Sterling's health. But in a statement to CNN, he called reports that Sterling was mentally incapacitated a "vast overstatement" and said Sterling had a diagnosis of a "modest mental impairment."
In his first major test since becoming NBA commissioner in February, Silver has taken a strong position on punishing Sterling by swiftly banning him for life from the league and fining him US$2.5 million, the maximum penalty Silver could levy.
Silver also appears to have gotten his way as he signaled a month ago when banning Sterling that he wanted the team sold as a resolution to the first crisis of his tenure.
In his lawsuit against the league, Sterling alleges that he was unaware that he was being recorded and was caught in a jealous quarrel with a "lover." He argues that the recording was illegal and should not be used as evidence to oust him.
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