Shelly and Donald Sterling

Shelly Sterling is reportedly trying to sell the Clippers in advance of a Tuesday deadline, when the 30 pro basketball teams will vote on whether to strip control of the team from her and Donald Sterling. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / March 23, 2011)

Los Angeles Clippers co-owner Shelly Sterling is mounting a hurried sale of the team that her husband, Donald, bought 33 years ago and could name a prospective new owner by the end of the week, according to people familiar with the situation.

Shelly Sterling is trying to sell the Clippers in advance of a Tuesday deadline, when the 30 pro basketball teams will vote on whether to strip control of the team from both of the Sterlings, in response to Donald Sterling's racially charged remarks about blacks.

The developments in the NBA's biggest-ever ownership crisis came on the same day that a defiant Donald Sterling lashed out at what he called the league's "illegal termination process." In a 30-page response to the charges that the NBA formally leveled against him last week, Sterling excoriated the NBA for insisting on his ouster for what he deemed an illegal recording of a "lover's quarrel."

In the documents obtained by The Times, Sterling said he had already received offers "in excess of $2.5 billion" for the Clippers.

The whirlwind series of events suggested a potentially rapid resolution to a scandal that appeared as if it might drag on for months or years, though people close to the NBA cautioned that the sale of the team is far from complete and eventually must be approved by the other owners.

The potential price tag for the Clippers and the field of interested parties came into focus Tuesday, with one likely bidder saying that the team would certainly go for well over $1 billion. That would be the highest sale price in NBA history, topping the $550 million sale of the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this month.

Among the possible buyers is Chicago-based Guggenheim Partners — which bought the Dodgers two years ago for more than $2 billion — in partnership with three billionaires who previously said they would launch a bid for the Clippers: Oracle software co-founder Larry Ellison, entertainment magnate David Geffen and multimedia powerhouse Oprah Winfrey.

Another group of potential bidders includes three people who have ties to major league sports: Tony Ressler, the Los Angeles-based co-founder of the investment firm Ares Management, who holds a minority stake in the Milwaukee Brewers; Oaktree Capital Management co-founder Bruce Karsh, who is a minority owner of the NBA's Golden State Warriors and chairman of Los Angeles Times owner Tribune Co.; and Grant Hill, a onetime NBA all-star who finished his career with the Clippers. Hill and others from the group met with Shelly Sterling on Monday at Nobu restaurant in Malibu.

A bid is also expected from Steve Ballmer, who stepped down as chief executive of Microsoft in February after leading the software company for 14 years. He met with Shelly Sterling on Sunday.

Ballmer last year joined hedge fund manager Chris Hansen in a bid for the Sacramento Kings with the intention of moving the team to Seattle. NBA owners rejected their offer.

Ballmer said in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal that if he makes a bid and it is successful, he would not move the Clippers. He said the team would lose much of its value by leaving Los Angeles, the nation's second-biggest media market.

A prospective buyer, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of negotiations, said that the process appeared to be moving quickly and the deadline for bids could be as early as Thursday. "We will probably know who bought the team by Friday," that bidder said.

Any deal for the team would require approval of three-quarters of the NBA's owners.

The league is also insisting that the Sterlings sell 100% of the team. NBA spokesman Mike Bass said Tuesday that the league would not be receptive to Shelly Sterling maintaining a minority interest in the Clippers, an idea she has not yet ruled out.

The league said it would move forward with next week's extraordinary hearing to remove the couple from ownership. "Should the Board vote to sustain the charge," Bass said, "the Sterlings' interests in the Clippers will be terminated and the team will be sold."

Reiterating a statement NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made last week, Bass said: "It would be a preferred outcome if the Sterlings were to voluntarily transfer 100% of the ownership in the team to new owners, rather than to have their ownership in the team terminated."

People familiar with two of the prospective buyers said they believed that Shelly Sterling, who has previously said she did not want to control the team, would be happy just keeping season tickets and a preferred parking pass. Someone familiar with her thinking said the co-owner might still want more.

 

Shelly and Donald Sterling have been married for 58 years and she holds half of the team through a family trust. Last week, her husband said he had turned over control to her to facilitate a sale.

"Donald Sterling has authorized Shelly Sterling in writing to negotiate the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers, including his 50% ownership of the team," Pierce O'Donnell, Shelly Sterling's attorney, said Tuesday. "Shelly is managing the sale of the Clippers. While no formal offers have yet been received, Shelly and the NBA are working cooperatively on the transaction."