LOS ANGELES (AP) — When Shelly Sterling was approached by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer about buying the Los Angeles Clippers, the wife of disgraced team owner Donald Sterling did not know who he was. But in short order she convinced him the team was worth an unprecedented $2 billion.
In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Shelly Sterling offered details about how she negotiated one of the richest deals in sports after her husband’s racist rant to a girlfriend became public and prompted the NBA to ban him for life and decree he give up the team. At that point, Shelly Sterling stepped in.
“I was given the task and I did it,” she said Thursday. “I just did what I had to do.”
She signed up well-known litigator Pierce O’Donnell. He asked her how much she wanted for the team and she handed him a piece of paper on which was written, “$1.5 to $2 (billion),”shocking figures for a franchise that until recently was a perpetual loser.
Prospective buyers started lining up. She got an offer of $1.65 billion from David Geffen and she said an Egyptian princess was entering the bidding war.
Ballmer called her at 7 a.m. on a Saturday.
“He was really enthusiastic,” she recalled. “He said I want to come see you immediately.”
She put him off until the next day and quickly called a girlfriend to find out who he was.
“He was a like a little child. He was so excited, so happy,” she said of their meeting. “We sort of connected. I felt he would be good for the team.”
She said he asked her how much others had offered and then bid $1.9 billion. Though that was far more than most believed the team was worth, Shelly Sterling wasn’t satisfied.
“I told him: ‘You won’t have to build an arena or a practice field.’ So he was getting a bargain. And I told him, ‘We have great players, a great coach and you’ll never have the chance to buy a team in Los Angeles again.”
After her speech, she recalled “He said, ‘O.K. I’ll give you two.’ He really, really wanted the team.”
She said she extracted a promise that he would never move the team to Seattle, his hometown. The deal closed after a bitter probate fight with her husband.
In a wide-ranging interview just days before her 80th birthday, the elegant, blond wife of the beleaguered real estate mogul exuded the energy and enthusiasm of a much younger woman. For a half-century she had worked in Donald’s shadow, renovating and decorating their properties while he built their business empire.