Los Angeles Clippers co-owner Donald Sterling on Tuesday sparred with his estranged wife’s attorney at a trial over the $2 billion sale of the NBA franchise, interrupting and shouting during testimony and saying that he wants to hold onto the team for financial reasons.
The 80-year-old real estate billionaire, who has been deemed by physicians to have Alzheimer’s disease and be lacking in capacity to handle business affairs, said he was blocking the sale brokered by his wife to former Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer because he believed the team’s value could be more than double.
“I think we can get somewhere between $2.5 to $5 billion for that team,” Sterling said, adding that sharply rising television and media rights made the team more valuable to keep.
It is the first time Sterling has spoken publicly since a televised interview in May shortly after he was banned from the NBA for life for taped racist remarks that were made public.
Sterling had difficulty recalling dates and remembering past statements a day after he was a no-show when called to take the stand. He fought with celebrity attorney Bert Fields, repeatedly asking the lawyer his name.
An agitated Sterling, who often disputed Fields’ questions, snapped at the lawyer: “Tell me if that’s relevant, if you’re not trying to be a smart ass.”
Fields’ hoarse voice complicated matters for the hard-of-hearing Sterling, a lawyer by training.
“I think it showed you what this man is really like,” Fields said outside court. “It showed you the enormous hypocrisy of this guy, who will spout all these things about how he loves his wife, but he’s suing her.”
Shelly Sterling, 79, has asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas to confirm her as the sole trustee of the family trust that owns the Clippers and to back the NBA-record deal she struck with Ballmer.
At issue is whether Shelly Sterling properly removed her husband as controlling trustee after he was deemed by physicians to have early Alzheimer’s disease and unable to handle business affairs.
Sterling’s attorneys say he was misled by his wife into submitting to medical examinations that removed him from control of the Clippers.
Sterling’s attorney, Bobby Samini, said outside court that this was usual behavior for his client.
“He has a lot to say; he’s got a lot on his chest,” Samini said. “I think he wanted to use this opportunity to try and get some of it out.”
The sale to Ballmer has been tentatively approved by the league but must be voted on by other team owners. The vote is scheduled for July 15 - the same day Ballmer can back out of the deal if it is not approved.
The NBA has said it could seize the Clippers from the Sterlings and put the franchise up for auction if the deal is not approved by Sept. 15.