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Report: NBA considering countersuit against Donald Sterling

Jun 14, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

Donald Sterling Donald Sterling

This is going to get uglier before it ends. A lot uglier.

Donald Sterling has sued the NBA and has a team of investigators digging up whatever they can on the NBA owners — and it’s safe to imagine that there is some ugly stuff that can be dug up. The league’s reaction has essentially been to shrug. The league’s position is that Shelly Sterling is the sole trustee of the Sterling Family Trust (which owns the Clippers) after she had Donald declared mentally incapacitated and in that role she can sell the team. She also gave the league indemnity against Donald’s lawsuit — even if he wins $1 billion in court, he gets paid out of the Sterling Trust.

At least the league has shrugged up to now, but they may well choose to countersue reports Michael McCann at Sports Illustrated.

The league will answer Sterling’s complaint by August 11, and sources tell SI.com there is a good chance the league will countersue Sterling. The NBA could raise a tortious interference with contractual relations claim, and contend that Sterling has interfered in the business relations of the NBA and one of its franchises by interfering with the sale of the team.

Of course, that just adds to the legal mess. It would be more about leverage — “we’ll drop our lawsuit if you drop yours” — than actually expecting to get anything out of Sterling.

All of that is really the sideshow. An ugly, loud, potentially embarrassing sideshow, but a sideshow nonetheless.

The only thing that really matters is the July 7 probate court hearing on Sterling’s mental competency and with that control of the Sterling Family Trust. Shelly Sterling got Donald to take neurological tests after his CNN interview (about the leaked tapes of his prejudiced statements that started this entire situation) and with the results of those had him declared mentally incapacitated under the rules laid out in the Trust. That left her as the sole trustees and she set up the $2 billion sale of the Clippers to Steve Ballmer (in which she still gets perks and basically an “owner emeritus” status).

If the probate judge sides with Shelly Sterling, the sale to Ballmer goes through and Donald’s lawsuit is simply a nuisance (in which he has to pay himself any money he wins).

If the judge sides with Donald Sterling and re-instates him as a trustee, blocking the sale to Ballmer, the NBA will go back to Plan A and have the other owners vote on whether to strip him of his franchise. Sterling sent out a long, crazy rant basically calling that unAmerican but the fact is this is more like being part of a country club — if you do something to violate the club bylaws (and Sterling has done that by being bad for business) the other club members can vote you out. Whether or not that was a private recording leaked to the public, it certainly has damaged the Clipper brand and the NBA brand (sponsors have pulled out of the team and players have discussed a boycott) and the other owners have the right to vote who they do business with.

What Sterling can do is sue the league, dig up dirt and make it an ugly mess.

None of that is going to help him keep his team. Rather, the opposite.

  1. mogogo1 - Jun 14, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    The NBA should be looking for a way to resolve things and a countersuit is only going to prolong the fight. Like it or not, the way to make Sterling go away is to buy him off with some sort of incentive if he goes along with the sale and drops his suits. The way the NBA is handling this the Clippers will still be in limbo several years from now. Not what anybody wants to see.

    • limonadamas - Jun 14, 2014 at 11:50 AM

      So… You don’t think that $660 million (after capital gains tax and giving half to his estranged wife) isn’t enough incentive? Forbes valuated the Clippers as worth far less than that a few months ago. No, you don’t win against people like this with appeasement.

    • sumkat - Jun 15, 2014 at 3:40 AM

      I think you underestimate how bitter an old man with nothing to lose can be. He already has more money than he could ever spend if he were 40 years younger, let alone at his age.

      I’m not saying a countersuit is going to work, if you read my post below, I see no legal standing for it. But I don’t think just throwing money at him is going to do much, after all, if it was, he’s already getting much more than the team was appraised at just a few months ago, and he would of got 100% of that if he sold it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a principal thing with him now (regardless of how misguided that principal is), and he is willing to fight it until his dying day, regardless of how much cash you throw at him

      • sumkat - Jun 15, 2014 at 3:41 AM

        *wouldn’t of got 100% of that if he sold it*

  2. jollyjoker2 - Jun 14, 2014 at 11:51 AM

    I guess racism trumps ageism, dementia and elderly abuse by the NBA

    • raysfan1 - Jun 14, 2014 at 12:50 PM

      Ageism? Half the NBA teams have owners aged 65 or older, two with principle owners older than Donald Sterling.

  3. mrlaloosh - Jun 14, 2014 at 11:58 AM

    I hope the trials are televised. Where’s Judge Ito when u need him!

  4. campcouch - Jun 14, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    I hope he drags this out. It’s great seeing billionaires and millionaires battle it out. If he wins and carries out his threat to dig up dirt on the other owners and commish,I want to see what else goes down. If they try to void player contracts or the players walk out, how do they handle a dead franchise,scheduling for 29 teams,where do the “free” players go? Carnegie,Morgan and Rockefeller must be in Rich Heaven nodding their heads in approval!

  5. tampajoey - Jun 14, 2014 at 12:58 PM

    I think Donald Sterling is just trying to prove that the league is full of hypocrites.

    • kb2408 - Jun 14, 2014 at 1:55 PM

      Just an old curmudgeon with a boatload of money and nothing better to do with the rest of his days on this earth. Pretty sad actually…

  6. smackingfools - Jun 14, 2014 at 1:02 PM

    I’d love to see him get some dirt on a minority owner. And then love to see the league do nothing about it.

  7. watchfullhose - Jun 14, 2014 at 10:37 PM

    If there was ever any doubt that this guy was a piece of garbage….he has now removed that doubt. Great job emptying the trash, NBA.

  8. scallops - Jun 15, 2014 at 8:13 AM

    Hard to argue that he’s bad for business when the value of the Clippers franchise went up 400% overnight after the story broke.

    I haven’t seen any numbers on leaguewide profits before and after the story.

    • Kurt Helin - Jun 15, 2014 at 8:00 PM

      That price was that high before he said anything, that team was not on the market. Major team sponsors instantly pulled out, that’s not bad for business?

  9. scallops - Jun 16, 2014 at 3:56 AM

    It’s impossible to say what it would have sold for, but I think most wpuld agree not 2 billion dollars.

    That is the second most a sports franchise has ever sold for and 1.5 billion dollars more than the most an NBA franchise has ever sold for. Shortly before the scandal broke, Forbes estimated the Clippers worth approximately 565 million, I believe.

    At worst, Sterling’s comments never hurt the Clipper’s bottom line – and it is very possible/likely that the publicity increased the team’s value.

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