How Did Shelly Sterling Sell the Clippers Without Donald’s Approval?

The final episode of FX on Hulu’s sports drama series ‘Clipped’ chronicles Shelly Sterling’s efforts to sell the Los Angeles Clippers before the NBA dismantles the team. Even though her husband and co-owner of the club, Donald Sterling, initially considers the sale, he backs off at the last minute. In reality, as the series depicts, Shelly moved forward with selling the Clippers to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion. For the sale, she had to rely on several legal technicalities and even fight a lawsuit against her spouse. With the help of her lead lawyer, Pierce O’Donnell, Shelly transferred the ownership to Ballmer with a “Plan B.”

Shelly Sterling’s Plan B

After the scandal involving Donald Sterling and V. Stiviano broke out, the NBA deemed that a change of ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers was essential for the existence of the team. Shelly Sterling, initially, was not at all open to the sale of the basketball franchise. She couldn’t comprehend why she had to be punished with the sale of the team she had built because of the condemnable things her husband said. However, when Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, convinced her that the sale was not an option, Shelly understood that she didn’t have a choice. The challenge in front of her was gaining Donald’s approval.

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It didn’t take long for Shelly to find a prospective owner in Steve Ballmer. However, both Ballmer and the NBA wanted Donald to sign off on the sale or a court to validate Shelly’s sole authority to sell the Clippers. When it became evident that Donald wouldn’t sign the contracts, Shelly and her lawyers relied on a second plan of action. At the time, the basketball team was owned by the Sterling Family Trust, whose trustees were Donald and Shelly. The wife could sell the franchise on behalf of the trust alone if the husband got removed as a trustee.

To move forward with the removal, all Shelly needed was two doctors specializing in mental health to certify that Donald didn’t have the capacity to function as a trustee. Dr. Merril Platzer met Donald first and diagnosed his condition as early Alzheimer’s. Shelly and her attorneys also sought the diagnosis of Dr. James Spar, a reputed geriatric psychiatrist at UCLA. The two doctors’ diagnoses were enough for Shelly to remove Donald as a trustee. She became the sole custodian of the family trust that owned the Clippers. Shelly, at that point, had the authority to sell the basketball team to Ballmer.

“So, we had no alternative. I gave my word to Steve; I have to go through with it. I don’t want them to dismantle the team, and the players didn’t want to play. So, I signed it, I gave them my word, and as far as I knew, it was done. I mean, that was very hard for me to do,” Shelly said about the sale of the Clippers, as per Ramona Shelburne’s podcast series ‘The Sterling Affairs,’ the source material of the FX show. “If I thought there was the least amount of chance that we could own it, I would have stuck with it, but I didn’t see any chance,” she added.

The Aftermath of the Sale

When Shelly Sterling confirmed the $2-billion sale of the Clippers to Steve Ballmer, Donald retaliated by fighting a lawsuit against the NBA and his wife, among many others. He sought damages of $1 billion from the basketball association. A trial was followed, with Donald attempting to invalidate his removal as a trustee of the Sterling Family Trust. The legal battle, however, reached nowhere. In November 2016, Donald settled the suit. “Donald is pleased with the outcome and is looking forward to focusing on future endeavors,” Bobby Samini, his attorney, said in a statement given to the Los Angeles Times.

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By May 2017, Donald revealed that he had moved on from the legal battles and any sort of resentment toward Shelly. “I am as happy as I have ever been. I am as comfortable as I have ever been. And I don’t want to do anything to disturb that,” he said at the time, as per NBC News. Shelly also revealed the same through Ramona Shelburne’s podcast series. “He [Donald] is happy about selling the team now. Yes. He tells a lot of people. He says, ‘You know, I had to sell the team, but I feel like I fell off a tree and I landed on a pile of gold,’” Shelly said.

Even though Donald made amends with Shelly regarding the sale of the Clippers, he is still banned by the NBA from attending any games personally. Shelly, who can watch the Clippers courtside as the official #1 fan of the team, has been trying to find a way to remove the ban. “I couldn’t understand the severity of the ban. It just seemed a little bit out of line. I have talked to [the NBA] several times, and I don’t know what they will do. Maybe they will, and maybe they won’t [lift the ban]. Maybe it takes a little bit more time,” she said, according to NBC News.

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