Judge OKs record-setting $2 billion Clippers sale

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Judge OKs record-setting $2 billion Clippers sale

LOS ANGELES -- Embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling lost his attempt to block the $2 billion sale of the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

In allowing the deal to go forward, Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas sided Monday with Sterling's estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, who negotiated the record sale after the NBA banned the 80-year-old billionaire for making offensive remarks about blacks.

Shelly Sterling sought the probate judge's approval to ink the deal after taking over the family trust that owns the team because doctors found Donald Sterling had signs of Alzheimer's disease and couldn't manage his affairs.

The judge said Shelly Sterling had negotiated a good deal and the removal of her husband as a co-trustee was in good faith and not part of a secret plan to seize the team.

Shelly Sterling hugged her lawyer and wept after the judge explained his ruling from the bench.

"I can't believe it's over," she said. "This is the best thing."

An unusual provision of the ruling bars Donald Sterling from seeking a court-ordered delay of the sale as he appeals. His lawyers plan to seek permission from an appellate court to file an appeal.

Sterling was not in court for the ruling. Bobby Samini, one of his lawyers, said Sterling reacted calmly to the news and told his lawyers they had to keep battling on other fronts. Sterling testified during the case that he would fight the NBA until his death.

With lawsuits pending in state and federal courts, the ruling in Los Angeles County Superior Court is unlikely to put an end to the bizarre saga that began in April when a recording surfaced of Sterling scolding his young girlfriend for bringing black men to Clippers games.

The NBA moved quickly to ban Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million.

Sterling was apologetic after the audio recording went viral, but his mea culpa backfired when he criticized Lakers great Magic Johnson, who had been photographed with Sterling's girlfriend, as a bad role model for kids because he had HIV. Sterling was roundly condemned from locker rooms to the Oval Office, where President Barack Obama called Sterling's remarks "incredibly offensive racist statements."

With the NBA threatening to seize the team and auction it, Sterling initially gave his wife of 58 years permission to negotiate a sale but then refused to sign the $2 billion Ballmer deal, which would be a record price for an NBA team. He said he would sue the league instead and then revoked the trust, which his lawyers said effectively killed the deal.

The nonjury trial held over several weeks focused mainly on whether Shelly Sterling properly removed her husband as a trustee and whether her actions carried any weight after he revoked the trust.

Donald Sterling claimed his wife had deceived him about the medical exams. His lawyers argued Monday that Shelly Sterling's lawyers were in cahoots with the doctors who examined him and that his wife conspired with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to remove him from the trust.

"There's no evidence, I'll repeat that as loudly as you allow," attorney Maxwell Blecher said during closing argument, his voice rising. "There's no evidence that Mr. Sterling was incapable of carrying out his duties as a co-trustee."

Levanas said there was no credible evidence that Sterling was defrauded.

Blecher said he was deeply disappointed in the judge's legal analysis.

The ruling Monday was tentative until the judge files it in writing.

NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement that the league was pleased and looked forward to the transaction closing as soon as possible.

At the conclusion of his lengthy ruling, Levanas envisioned what might happen if Donald Sterling remained the owner.

Citing testimony of Clippers interim CEO Richard Parsons, he said the team would go into a "death spiral." Sponsors would withdraw, players would quit and coach Doc Rivers would leave.

"The Clippers would suffer a massive loss of value if the team survived at all," Levanas said.

The judge was adamant that a team owned by Donald Sterling would not draw a price anywhere near the "stunning" $2 billion pledged by Ballmer. Sterling, a lawyer who made a fortune as a landlord, bought the team in 1981 for $12 million.

"Ballmer paid an amazing price that can't be explained by the market," he said.

On the witness stand, Shelly Sterling was more credible than her husband, who was more evasive, gave inconsistent answers and presented wild fluctuations of damage estimates, Levanas said.

He noted that the couple presented genuine professions of love for each other despite Donald Sterling's outburst calling his wife a "pig" after she testified.

Outside of court, his wife said she thought her husband would be happy with the ruling. She said she thinks he will ultimately drop his antitrust suit in federal court against the NBA and the lawsuit he filed in state court against her, Silver and the league.

Her lawyer wasn't so sure. Asked what might stop the deal, Pierce O'Donnell said: "Donald."

"He never met a lawsuit he didn't like," he quipped.

Bruce Givner, a Los Angeles tax attorney who handles celebrity cases, said he thinks Sterling's lawsuits will fail and an appeals court won't care about the probate case.

"I think the sale is going to go through," Givner said. "I suspect the NBA is ready to move very quickly. They want to get rid of Sterling like a canker sore. Nobody wants him around except the people that are charging legal fees to continue this charade."

AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch contributed to this report.

Sixers-Knicks 5 Things: Sixers hope to remain hot after All-Star break

Sixers-Knicks 5 Things: Sixers hope to remain hot after All-Star break

The Sixers (22-35) finish off a back-to-back set out of the All-Star break when they the New York Knicks (23-35) at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. Starting out strong
So much for having nine days off and players in new roles negatively impacting the team.

The Sixers stormed into the home stretch of the season with a 120-112 win over the Washington Wizards. Seven different players scored in double figures for the Sixers, as they knocked off the Eastern Conference's No. 3 seed.

Perhaps no player had a bigger impact on the game than Richaun Holmes. The backup big man notched the first double-double of his career with 12 points and 10 rebounds. He also added a career-best five blocks.

"I try to approach every game this season the same way, whether everybody was playing or people were hurt," Holmes said. "Prepare like I'm going to play 30 minutes a game. I think having that mindset helped me to stay ready at all times and be aggressive when I had a chance."

2. Young guns
Injuries will prevent another juicy clash between Joel Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis, but there will still be two other young players to keep an eye Saturday night.

Dario Saric and Willy Hernangomez have been two of the most impressive rookies this season, especially since the calendar flipped to February.

Saric has averaged 16.4 points, 7.3 boards and 2.2 assists this month. He's coming off a 20-point, 11-rebound performance against the Wizards for his third straight double-double.

Hernangomez has put up 11.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists a night in February. The center, who was actually drafted 35th overall in 2015 by the Sixers before being traded, recorded 11 points and 10 rebounds in the Knicks' 119-104 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.

Saturday's clash could go a long way toward determining Rookie of the Month honors for the East.

3. A Rose is but a Rose
Derrick Rose will never be considered among the league's top assist men. That's simply not his style of play.

When the oft-injured Rose has his game flowing, it starts with scoring, particularly against the Sixers.

In 18 career matchups with the Sixers, Rose has averaged 20.7 points. He's also put up 6.6 assists and 3.9 rebounds in those contests.

Rose scored 25 points on 11 of 16 shooting in the Knicks' first meeting with the Sixers this season back on Jan. 12.

That typically would have been enough to say he won the point guard battle that night, but T.J. McConnell's buzzer-beating jumper stole the show in the Sixers' 98-97 win.

4. Injuries
Embiid (knee), Tiago Splitter (calf), Ben Simmons (foot) Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Joakim Noah (hamstring) is a game-time decision. Porzingis (ankle) is out for the Knicks.

5. This and that
• The Sixers' win over the Knicks in their last meeting snapped a five-game skid in the series.

• The Sixers had 28 assists in their win over the Wizards. They are eighth in the NBA with 23.6 assists a night.

• The Knicks are fourth in the NBA in rebounding with 46.0 boards per game.

In 1st game post-Ersan Ilyasova, Dario Saric shines as Sixers' starting PF

In 1st game post-Ersan Ilyasova, Dario Saric shines as Sixers' starting PF

When Ersan Ilyasova was traded to the Hawks on Wednesday, it became Dario Saric's time to shine.

And shine he did in the Sixers' 120-112 win over the Wizards Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center. In the first game coming off the All-Star break, Saric got the starting nod at power forward. He certainly looked the part, posting 20 points (10 of 19 from the field), 11 rebounds and four assists.

Saric, now the only true four on the roster, was proud of his team's performance against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

"We have a lot of veterans who can share the ball and that's how you're supposed to play," Saric said. "For me, I'm not surprised if we [beat the third-best team] in the East, but I believe these guys can play very good basketball."

Saric was excellent in the starting role, but his exceptional play dates back before the All-Star break. Including Friday, he's averaged 20.5 points, eight rebounds and 2.5 assists over his last six games. The Sixers are 4-2 in that span.

Head coach Brett Brown is seeing what he expected to see from the Croatian rookie.

"He's a professional basketball player," Brown said. "He has been that for a while. His love of the game, his passion for the game is contagious. It's a thing that we loved maybe more than anything about him when we did the deal with Orlando, knowing however many years ago with the trade with Elfrid Payton and Saric. That was a calculated move."

Saric played almost 33 minutes Friday night. So what did Brown do to give Saric a breather? He sent out Robert Covington.

Covington has played the position most of his life but has spent his entire Sixers career on the wing. In a time of need, he stepped up for a team still adjusting to roster changes.

The 6-foot-8 Covington held his own against the likes of Philly native Markieff Morris. It didn't seem to faze his offensive game, either. Covington scored 25 points on 9 of 14 from the field (5 of 9 from three). He also added 11 rebounds and three assists.

Covington has also been a catalyst for the Sixers during their recent success. He's averaging 17.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 steals in his last six. He's also shot a ridiculous 46 percent from three (19 of 41) in that span.

"We can only control what we're able to control on the court," Covington said. "Everything outside of what they do in management doesn't include us. We can only focus on what we can control on the court, and that's what our main focus was on these last few days."

Saric continues to show that he was worth wait while Covington continues to prove that he's a keeper.

They've certainly had different paths. Saric was a lottery pick and regarded as one the top young players in Europe. Covington went undrafted out of Tennessee State and spent the 2013-14 primarily with the Rockets' D-League affiliate.

Bryan Colangelo has identified Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons as the team's "transformational players." That's likely true, but every NBA team needs guys like Saric and Covington to complement their stars.

Covington is impressed with the progress of Saric in his rookie season.

"Dario's a very special player," Covington said. "He's able to do so much on the court. Tonight, you saw every aspect of his game. He'll guard, defending, rebounding and making plays on the offensive game. That's what Dario does. Now that he's going to play more in the starting lineup, it's really going to help him."

Saric may be the frontrunner to take home the Rookie of the Month for February. He's second only to Joel Embiid in double-doubles (seven) and 20-point games (six) among rookies. Whether it's Saric or Embiid, it appears the Rookie of the Year will be a Sixer.

His promotion to the starting lineup and wins against teams like the Wizards should only help Saric's cause.

"Maybe you see [me start consistently], maybe not," Saric said. "The game first time here I try to find myself. I got a couple rebounds, but still, I try to find myself with the new role. I've tried to move around, catch the rhythm of the game, that's the most important thing in basketball."

He appeared to find himself just fine Friday night.