The voice at the other end was a high-energy buzz. But the man, a stranger, made it clear that he wanted to bid on the Los Angeles Clippers, the basketball team she owned with her estranged husband, Donald Sterling. The man on the phone offered to fly from Seattle to speak with her that afternoon.
Judging from this anecdote, the 80-year-old Shelley Sterling, who is not getting any younger, sounds a little gaga. (You’ll see later why this isn’t a gratuitous jibe, but could be at the heart of her husband Donald’s current plan to sue to block the sale of his team.)
Five days later, Mrs. Sterling had an agreement to sell the Clippers to Mr. Ballmer for a record-setting $2 billion. The deal allowed her to remain involved as “owner emeritus.” With the title, she gets two floor seats for all home games and five stadium parking spaces, according to people involved in the negotiations.
This account of the last-minute negotiations behind the sale, much of which has not been previously disclosed, was assembled from nearly a dozen interviews with people involved in the deal on various sides. Because the sale has not been finalized, many of the people spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The hurried negotiations took place against the backdrop of the Sterlings’ deeply strained marriage and involved some of the wealthiest people in Los Angeles jostling for a coveted property from their perches in private jets, Malibu mansions and Ritz-Carlton penthouse suites. And while Mr. Sterling had long been seen as the principal actor in the Clippers’ saga, he was reduced to a bit player in the deal’s final stages. It was Rochelle Sterling, his wife of 58 years, who emerged from the billion-dollar negotiating table with the terms she wanted.
On May 29, the day Mrs. Sterling and Mr. Ballmer agreed in principle on the deal, Mrs. Sterling and her advisers gathered in a conference room at the law offices of Greenberg Glusker in Los Angeles. Mr. Sterling was on speakerphone. He told the room that he refused to sell — at any price — and vowed to fight the N.B.A., which had barred him for life for making racist statements on recordings, according to participants in the negotiations.
With little else to say, Mr. Sterling hung up. Pierce O’Donnell, Mrs. Sterling’s lawyer, turned to a roomful of lawyers, investment bankers and financial advisers and said, “Time to go to Plan B,” according to advisers who were in the room.
It was a reference to a provision in the trust that controlled the Clippers that stipulated that if Mr. or Mrs. Sterling was found to have a cognitive impairment, the other had a fiduciary responsibility to become sole trustee.
What if they are both found to have cognitive impairment? Has the octogenarian Mrs. Sterling been tested?
“It’s not necessary that he sign the trust agreement because Shelly went through this process outlined in the trust,” Mr. Silver said during a news conference Sunday night. “Donald was found incapacitated and unable to sign on his own behalf.”
Mrs. Sterling has maintained that she was unaware of the provision until late in the process, according to her advisers. But on May 13, the day after she watched her husband give a rambling interview to Anderson Cooper of CNN, she called Mr. Sterling and urged him to undergo neurological testing, according to people with knowledge of the conversation. She told friends that she was motivated by concern for her husband.
Mr. O’Donnell, her lawyer, was well aware of the legal ramifications of the hospital visit, according to participants in the negotiations. Medical documentation of Mr. Sterling’s condition could allow Mrs. Sterling to take control of the trust. This was “Plan B.” …
The doctors’ conclusions were clear, according to participants who have reviewed the records: A neurologist affiliated with U.C.L.A. Medical Center and another from the San Fernando Valley found Mr. Sterling to be affected by cognitive impairment.
How much “affected by cognitive impairment?” Practically everybody in their 80s is affected somewhat relative to their primes. It’s a relative thing. Philip Roth’s last few novels haven’t been as good as American Pastoral. John Updike gleefully charted his own decline from his late 40s peak in Rabbit Is Rich. Bertrand Russell had witty things to say in his 90s about the impairment of his cognition.
It would be interesting to see if Hillary Clinton is at all “affected by cognitive impairment” since her unfortunate brain trauma (that she took six months to recover from, according to Bill Clinton, whose attitude toward his spouse seems as complicated as Shelley’s toward Donald).
I guess you could argue that when a billionaire gets suckered twice in a row by women that proves he must be suffering from cognitive impairment, but that’s a little too nature red in tooth and claw of a legal standard, isn’t it? I mean, does the law really say that you can be legally tricked out of anything you aren’t clever enough anymore to avoid being tricked out of? Perhaps …
Obviously, Mr. Sterling would be ill-advised to try to wait for a Greater Fool than Steve Ballmer to come along.
Mr. O’Donnell faxed papers, along with the doctors’ reports, to Mr. Sterling’s lawyer, Maxwell M. Blecher, that informed him that Mrs. Sterling was now the sole trustee, according to people briefed on the negotiations.
At 6 that evening, Mr. O’Donnell informed Mr. Ballmer of Plan B: Mrs. Sterling was the sole trustee and did not need Mr. Sterling’s blessing. Mr. Ballmer was unaware that the maneuver had been even a possibility until then, according to a person who advised him on the bid process.
Mr. O’Donnell then called Richard Buchanan, the N.B.A.’s general counsel. Mr. Buchanan and other league officials had reviewed the doctors’ reports, according to people briefed on the negotiations. With Mrs. Sterling agreeing to indemnify the league against a potential lawsuit by her husband, Mr. Buchanan said he would recommend that the N.B.A.’s executive committee accept her new role in the trust as well as the sale agreement between Mr. Ballmer and Mrs. Sterling, those people said.
Back on May 1, in “The Sterling Tape: Illegal or Senile?” I pointed out that Stiviano’s tape recordings were prima facie illegal under California’s two-party consent law:
Now, V. Stiviano is trying to get around this heap of trouble by saying the octogenarian Donald T. Stirling gave her some sort of blanket permission to record him, apparently because he has a bad memory. From TMZ:
As for why Stiviano taped so many conversations … as TMZ Sports reported, she told friends the Clippers owner WANTED her to record him and he knew he was being recorded … partly because he frequently forgot what he said and the tapes refreshed his memory … at least that’s her story.
B. The tape was legally recorded because the octogenarian gave permission because he is going senile, and thus the whole planet is up in arms over what a senile man was coached into saying (which is pretty embarrassing for humanity. When’s the ship leaving for that Earth-like planet they just discovered? I think I want to be on it).