Shelly Sterling+Donald Sterling

Shelly Sterling was calm and in control as billionaire suitors made their pitches to buy the Clippers, insiders say.

James Rainey
June 7, 2014

The billionaire suitors came one after another, pulling up to the beachfront mansion just steps up the coast from the exclusive Malibu Colony. A lucky few had been asked to meet with Shelly Sterling — the Clippers were for sale.

Steve Ballmer visited first, on the Sunday before Memorial Day. Afterward, he and Shelly Sterling went to a favorite haunt, Nobu, where the elite nibble on Lobster Shiitake Salad ($46) in a wood-paneled dining room just above the waves.

The former Microsoft executive recalled that she seemed bittersweet about selling the basketball team but determined to see it go to a worthy successor. Ballmer was charmed by her fervor for the Clippers.

The next day, one of Los Angeles’ wealthiest men, Patrick Soon-Shiong, visited the Sterling home. Former NBA player Grant Hill and investment powerhouse Tony Ressler had to wait their turn outside.

“It was like speed dating,” one of the participants said, adding: “I’m sure it was exhilarating to her to have the undivided attention of all these very important people, these outliers.”

Those who visited agreed: Shelly Sterling seemed calm and in control.


That the team came on the market was a huge surprise. That Shelly Sterling was steering the sale was even more unexpected.

Donald Sterling, 80, had been the controlling owner and public face of the team for more than three decades; his 79-year-old wife was the Clippers’ voluble cheerleader.

Her distinctive head of platinum blond hair shone at courtside during home games and she chattered endlessly: clucking at opposing players, picking minutely over her own team’s strengths and weaknesses. When the Clippers won she gathered with friends for a celebratory toast.

It was in late April that Donald Sterling’s outsized passions and prejudices, heard on an audio recording released by a gossip website, embarrassed and angered the NBA. Commissioner Adam Silver resolved to oust him. After nearly a month of outrage, the disgraced owner told his real estate attorney to draw up a short letter.

“Mr. Sterling agrees to the sale of his interest in the Los Angeles Clippers,” read the May 22 directive, adding that Sterling gave his wife the right to negotiate with the NBA regarding “all issues in connection with a sale.”

This account of the frenetic week that followed is drawn from interviews with many of the principals in the hurried transaction. Most signed non-disclosure agreements with Shelly Sterling and asked to remain anonymous to describe the competition to buy the Clippers.

In control on the basketball front, at long last, Shelly Sterling wasted no time.

She quickly chose Bank of America Merrill Lynch, long a steward of the family’s finances, and Greenberg Glusker, the law firm representing her in her own struggles with the NBA, to conduct the sale.

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