Clippers owner Shelly Sterling and Steve Ballmer had an instant connection, says Sterling’s close friend, Kathrine Baumann.
Baumann had lunch Sunday at a Malibu deli with Sterling, where the pair talked about the pending $2 billion Clippers sale to the former Microsoft executive.
“Shelly just lit up when she talked about him,” Baumann recalled. “She said, “I absolutely adore him.’”
Asked if she thinks that Donald Sterling’s lawsuit will jeopardize the sale, Baumann said: “My money is always on Shelly.”
Ballmer offered the winning bid last Thursday for the Clippers, ending a fast-tracked process to sell the franchise owned by Sterling and her husband Donald since 1981. The NBA gave tentative approval to the deal, while Shelly Sterling agreed not to sue the NBA. She also indemnified the league against lawsuits from others, including Donald Sterling.
However, on Friday, Donald Sterling sued the NBA, seeking to block a forced sale of the team, and throwing into question the Ballmer deal.
Donald Sterling also successfully fought off a stiff fine from the NBA back in the mid 1980s, when the league slapped him with a $25 million penalty for moving the team from San Diego to Los Angeles. The Sterlings paid $6 million in the end.
If Donald Sterling continues his legal battle against the NBA, it’s likely to be a fight of “Sterling versus Sterling,” said a source familiar with the negotiations.
Ballmer has said little since the pending sale was announced. Through a representative, he declined a request for an interview on Monday.
The source said Ballmer offered a “wow factor” when negotiating with Shelly Sterling, ultimately beating out at least two other bidders.
“He put himself in a strong commanding position,” the source said. “He had a plan (for the team).”
The proposed sale comes after the NBA fined Donald Sterling $2.5 million, banned him for life from the league, and initiated a forced sale after a recording surfaced of the 80-year-old making remarks about African-Americans.
Shelly Sterling’s grandchildren were heckled at school after the Donald Sterling audiotape surfaced, Baumann said.
Believing Shelly Sterling will prevail in the sale, Baumann praised her friend’s handling of the deal. Shelly Sterling pushed for a quick resolution because “she didn’t want to tear the city apart, tear the fan base apart, and tear the Clippers apart,” Baumann said.
“She put this together and delivered it in a neat package to the NBA,” Baumann said.