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Testimony ends in Sterling probate trial, closing arguments next week

Jul 23, 2014, 10:59 PM EDT

Shelly Sterling, Donald Sterling Shelly Sterling, Donald Sterling

History suggests opening multiple battle fronts tends to be a sign of desperation and a losing tactic in a war… but Donald Sterling is both desperate and a guy whose legal strategy seems to be to start as many battle fronts with the NBA as possible regardless of the chance of success. He just wants to be a disruptive bully and drag this out (for tax reasons).

However, the battle front that really matters in the Clippers sale is the probate case between Donald and his wife Shelly over the Sterling Family Trust (which owns the team). That’s the case where a judge will determine if Shelly and her lawyers followed the proper legal steps in having Donald declared incapacitated (which left Shelly as the lone trustee, and she set up the sale of the team). If Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas rules for Shelly, the sale of the Clippers to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion most likely goes through quickly. If Donald wins he dissolves the Trust and tries to stall the sale process (although the NBA just has the other owners vote him out).

Testimony in the probate case came to a close on Wednesday, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Wednesday’s testimony centered on an Alzheimer’s disease expert questioning the validity of the mental test on Sterling and the results of those tests. The judge became annoyed with this line of questioning reports the Times because both sides decided before the trial that Sterling’s mental status would not be the issue — rather what matters is if the rules were followed from the trust. The expert said he thought the rules were not because part of the assessment was too casual.

Closing arguments are Monday. The judge likely rules in the coming weeks.

This case is different from the anti-trust case filed last month and the new lawsuit seeking damages that Sterling has filed against the NBA. Both of those cases could potentially become a nuisance and at worst an embarrassment to the NBA, but despite in both cases Sterling asked a judge to block the sale of the team legal experts say that is highly unlikely in those cases.

In the probate case, most of the observers in the courtroom think the judge will side with Shelly. Which is what the NBA wants.

Talk of the worst-case scenario painted by Clippers interim CEO on the stand Tuesday — Doc Rivers and key players trying to bolt, sponsors leaving and others not coming in, a downward spiral, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria — has never been a very likely outcome, mostly because the league would never let it come to that. If Donald Sterling does win the probate case the league will go back to Plan A and have the other owners just vote him out of the club (something the NBA can do if Sterling is deemed bad for business, and he is). The league is expected to move on that in mid-September if this case is still hanging out there.

Levanas will have ruled by then, but there are questions of the appeal (Levanas can say Shelly can sell the team during the appeal process).

Basically, we know how this movie is going to end, Donald Sterling will lose the Clippers, we just don’t know how we will get there yet.

  1. ProBasketballPundit - Jul 23, 2014 at 11:09 PM

    Adam Silver promised a swift vote by owners on this matter, right?

    • asimonetti88 - Jul 24, 2014 at 10:57 AM

      It’s out of the NBA’s hands right now. If Sterling wins, there will probably be a quick vote. As a Lakers fan, I hope it stretches out. It’s highly entertaining to me.

      • ProBasketballPundit - Jul 24, 2014 at 11:18 AM

        I kind of hope it stretches out too because I want to see what Doc Rivers & his players do. They were ready to strike last year in the playoffs and word is there might be a similar reaction if Donald Sterling is still the owner when the season starts. Not that I WANT to see that happen but wouldn’t it be something? There will probably be documentaries & books about this moment in NBA history.

  2. mackcarrington - Jul 23, 2014 at 11:15 PM

    If the worst case scenario happens, the NBA will not allow a precedent of players with current, valid contracts to just leave the team. If that happens, then anytime a player feels slighted by an owner or someone in management, they can just walk out? Naw… That ain’t gonna happen. A coach may resign if he feels that strongly principled, but players won’t have the same recourse.

    • fiyeaglesfiy - Jul 24, 2014 at 9:25 AM

      The article says “key player TRYING to bolt.” Agree with you that they’re under contract, so they can’t just leave the team and sign somewhere else. They can however just leave. Hold out, or threaten to retire to try and force a trade… Would be rare, since there would be significant financial consequence to the players, but that doesn’t mean their agents won’t be trying.

  3. campcouch - Jul 23, 2014 at 11:44 PM

    Haven’t heard a word from the players. Doc Rivers is doing a CYA because he self-promoted and is now part of management. Sterling is going to be ousted, there’s no way to get around it, but what he should do is recoup the money spent out of his accounts to conduct operations and personnel business while his “ban” has been in effect. We know the NBA isn’t paying Rivers and the acting CEO, that money comes out of Sterling’s wallet, which is the Clipper’s wallet. ALL operations should be suspended until the transfer is completed.

  4. unclemosesgreen - Jul 24, 2014 at 9:38 AM

    The NBA’s dirty little secret is that Sterling is far from the only racist old white owner. The very last thing that Silver wants is for that owner-vote to happen. I’m far from convinced that he has the votes to give Sterling the boot.

    Too many owner’s will look at this situation and think “Gosh, what if someone recorded me? I could be next.”

    • mazblast - Jul 24, 2014 at 2:46 PM

      They will be smart enough to not say anything, even if they’re thinking racist thoughts.

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