(CNN) — Los Angeles Clippers co-owner Donald Sterling made clear he wasn’t going away Friday, suing the NBA for more than $1 billion for its decision to ban him for life and force him to sell the franchise.
The lawsuit — which was provided to CNN by Sterling’s lawyer and wasn’t unexpected — marks the latest twist in a case that began last month when TMZ posted a recording in which Sterling made a racist comments. It also comes amid fresh questions about the 80-year-old’s mental state, which itself raises the issue of how much control he has or should have with the Clipppers.
Among other allegations, Sterling’s camp claims in its lawsuit that the recording that spawned this scandal — and that recording, it says, is the sole base of the NBA charges against him — is against California law and that Sterling never violated the NBA’s constitution.
The lawsuit also states that “the forced sale of the Los Angeles Clippers threatens not only to produce a lower price than a non-forced sale, but more importantly, it injures competition and forces antitrust injury by making the … market unresponsive to … the operation of the free market.”
“(Sterling believes) that the NBA’s forced sale … would create damages of at least $1 billion, which includes capital gains taxes, unnecessary and increased investment-banking fees, legal and transactional costs, and the loss of all future appreciation in the Los Angeles Clippers franchise value,” it adds.
The filing in a federal court in California comes a day after Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly, agreed to sell the Clippers to ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.
It also comes days before an anticipated meeting of the NBA Board of Governors that was set to include a vote that could have forced the Sterlings to give up that team.
In yet another twist, the NBA announced Friday that June 3 meeting has been canceled due to the pending sale to Ballmer.
“The NBA, Shelly Sterling and the Sterling Family Trust today resolved their dispute over the ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers,” the NBA said in a statement. “… Mrs. Sterling and the Trust also agreed not to sue the NBA and to indemnify the NBA against lawsuits from others, including from Donald Sterling.”
Lawyer: Sterling ‘doesn’t want to fight’ with estranged wife
Adding to the intrigue is whether Donald Sterling has standing over the team, not because of the aftermath of his racist comments but because of his mental state.
Two neurologists have deemed Donald Sterling to be mentally incapacitated, two sources with detailed knowledge of the situation told CNN on Friday.
Sterling’s lawyer, Maxwell Blecher, firmly shot down this report, calling such a declaration a “vast overstatement.” Blecher said the 80-year-old was diagnosed with a “modest mental impairment” or a “slowing down.”
“(Sterling is) far from incapacitated,” his lawyer said.
According to one of the sources, there is a provision in the Sterling family trust that says if either Donald Sterling or his estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, become mentally incapacitated, then the other becomes the sole trustee.
That could smooth the way for $2 billion deal that Shelly Sterling negotiated with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for the team.
Asked Friday about such a sale, Blecher said Donald Sterling “is looking at the whole situation and evaluating where to go from here.”
“He doesn’t want to fight with Shelly. That’s the bottom line,” Blecher said.
Earlier Friday, Shelly Sterling confirmed the agreement with Ballmer, a sale that would still have to be approved by three-quarters of the NBA’s Board of Governors.
“We have worked for 33 years to build the Clippers into a premiere NBA franchise,” she said in a statement. “I am confident that Steve will take the team to new levels of success.”
Ballmer is worth $20 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
“I love basketball. And I intend to do everything in my power to ensure that the Clippers continue to win — and win big — in Los Angeles,” Ballmer said Friday.
Sterlings could make huge profit
Whatever happens with Sterling’s lawsuit, there’s no question that — if the sale goes through — it would mean a huge windfall for him and his family.
The real estate investor bought the Clippers for about $12 million in 1981.
If the deal goes through, it would be the largest sum paid for an NBA franchise. Last month, the Milwaukee Bucks, a team with a losing record in a small television market, sold for $550 million.
While he has faced legal trouble before — including a wrongful termination lawsuit from the team’s longtime general manager Elgin Baylor, which Sterling one — his status as the Southern California franchise’s controlling owner wasn’t officially challenged until this spring.
That’s when TMZ posted audio of a conversation between Sterling and his friend, V. Stiviano, in which he made racist comments that quickly got the attention of NBA fans, players and executives. Many felt that Sterling didn’t help himself when he talked days later with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, including his calling out of basketball legend Magic Johnson.
As some corporate sponsors dropped and amid threats that players might boycott, Silver stepped up quickly to ban Sterling and fine him $2.5 million.
Following through on the commissioner’s vow, the NBA “initiated a charge” on May 19 seeking to terminate all of Sterling’s ownership rights in the franchise.