SBD/July 9, 2014/Franchises

Sterling Makes Contentious Court Appearance As Clippers' Sale Hangs In The Balance

Sterling believes he can get $3B for the Clippers' media rights
Banned Clippers Owner Donald Sterling believes that his wife, Shelly, is only trying to sell the team for $2B to Steve Ballmer "because she is 'terrified and frightened of this NBA'," and if he were to sell the team, he could get $2.5-5B "because of a boom in media-rights fees," according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN L.A. Sterling spoke yesterday "during a contentious hourlong testimony" in an L.A. probate court, which is meeting over the prospective sale of the team. Sterling: "Do you think Microsoft is foolish? Do you think they don't think and wonder where they're going to get the money back?" At the end of this week's trial, judge Michael Levanas "will decide if Shelly Sterling was authorized to sell the franchise" to Ballmer. Her attorneys contend that she "followed all of the procedures outlined in the Sterling Family Trust ... when two neurologists examined her husband and determined he was mentally incapacitated and unfit to conduct his own legal and business affairs." Sterling's attorneys argued that the exams "were conducted under false pretenses." Sterling yesterday was called to the stand, questioned by "legendary entertainment attorney Bert Fields and seemed to relish the opportunity to spar with the man who has a reputation for making even the most powerful men in Hollywood squirm on the witness stand." Sterling "was combative and defensive," as at every turn, he "sought to spar with Fields, calling him a 'smart-ass' and belittling him with responses like, 'I'm talking about your questions. I'm sure they'll improve.'" Sterling said that he had "initially authorized his wife to negotiate with the NBA to sell the franchise because he believed she would keep a portion of the team." Sterling said of Ballmer's pending purchase of 100% of the team, "When I found out what was accurate, I didn't want to go through with the sale. Why is that so hard for you to understand?" Sterling said he can get $3B for the team's media rights. Sterling: "It's an economic reason. I'm trying to generate as much success as I can for the trust. ... My wife, she's beautiful, but she cannot run anything. ... All I ask is to be patient for another two years and see what this trust does" (ESPNLA.com, 7/8).

STERLING CITES LAKERS' PRECEDENT: Sterling believes that the team "can make a windfall on its next local media deal when the existing contract" with FS Prime Ticket expires following the '15-16 season. He said that the 20-year, $3B deal struck in '11 between the Lakers and Time Warner Cable "made him believe the Clippers could make much more on local cable rights" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 7/9). In N.Y., Billy Witz writes Sterling was "feisty, combative and occasionally charming" on the stand. The trial "appears to be a last-ditch opportunity for Sterling to prevent the sale of the team" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/9). In L.A., Rainey & Cook report Sterling "railed on the witness stand Tuesday against the doctors who deemed him mentally incompetent, the executives who bounced him out of the NBA and the opposing lawyer who struggled to get him to answer a question" (L.A. TIMES, 7/9). Also in L.A., Nathan Fenno reports Sterling "didn't deviate from his decades-long reputation as a difficult witness" (L.A. TIMES, 7/9). The L.A. TIMES' Rainey & Cook report Sterling "sarcastically referred to the NBA as 'this great, wonderful organization' and said the league had not followed through on one settlement offer" that came as a result of his lifetime ban. Sterling: "I remember thinking just to myself, 'I am not going to do it with them because they are not to be trusted.'" Many in the "packed courtroom ... alternatively laughed and shook their heads as Sterling unleashed his fury" (L.A. TIMES, 7/9). USA TODAY's Moore & Peter write Sterling's testimony "was not a pretty scene for the roughly one hour he was on the stand." He was "rambling" and "combative." Matters "were not helped by the fact Fields, 85, was difficult to hear, and Sterling, 80, is a little hard of hearing" (USA TODAY, 7/9).

A TIRADE FOR THE AGES: In California, Don Woike notes Sterling yesterday "disparaged, in no particular order, his wife, his wife’s lawyer ... his own lawyers, the NBA, the New York Times, CNN, NBC, the media as a whole and the medical experts who testified to his mental incompetence in a bizarre 57 minutes of testimony" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 7/9). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Siegemund-Broka & Emery reported Sterling "was extremely combative with Fields, and at times he became dramatic" with Levanas (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 7/8). FS1's Kevin Vaughan said Sterling was "at times charming, at times combative and at times it appeared to many observers to be confused." Vaughan: "He cried while describing his wife and he lectured the lawyer who questioned him" ("Fox Sports Live," FS1, 7/8). SI.com's Michael McCann reported Sterling "provided riveting, if at times hard-to-believe, commentary about a wide-range of subjects related to his pending ouster from the NBA." He "often seemed intent on advancing a legal strategy: undermine the credibility of the two physicians who concluded that he was incapacitated and, as a consequence, imply that Shelly Sterling failed to meet her fiduciary duties under the family trust" (SI.com, 7/8). ESPN L.A.'s Arash Markazi wrote Sterling's behavior "during his contentious testimony was both entertaining and sad." He was "defensive, combative and, at times, confused." Markazi: "Shelly saw the writing on the wall and made the best business decision either of them has ever made" (ESPNLA.com, 7/8).
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