Shelly Sterling and Ballmer proceeded with their deal, despite the threat of legal action by Donald Sterling, because they were, as one source put it, "very confident the sale would go through" even if there were "bumps in the road or delays."
Shelly Sterling had pushed to negotiate a sale before Tuesday's board of governors meeting at which both of the Sterlings' ownership interests could be terminated, while Donald Sterling had vowed to fight the league's attempts to force a sale. Through his personal attorney, Donald Sterling sent a 32-page response to the league this past Tuesday, but the rebuttal did not address Sterling's mental capacity as part of his defense. Shelly Sterling told the "Today" show earlier this month that she thought her husband might have been developing dementia.
Blecher had told ESPN in an interview Wednesday that "when this thing first happened, [Donald Sterling] was kind of like in a trance. It was like a state of shock. His whole system was disoriented."
Sterling's mindset at that time led to a May 22 letter from his longtime personal attorney, not Blecher, informing the NBA that his client intended to sell the team and had given his wife authority to negotiate for him. Blecher said Sterling had changed his mind since then and "as time has evolved, he's come to a much more hard-line position" and "was the old Don I knew. ... Now he says, 'Look what they've done to me. I'm not going to take this lying down.'"
"Commissioner [Adam] Silver has consistently said the preferred outcome to the Clippers proceeding would be a voluntary sale of the team," the league said in a statement issued Friday afternoon, adding that its advisory/finance committee met via conference call in the morning to discuss Shelly Sterling's agreement with Ballmer. "We await the submission of necessary documentation from Mrs. Sterling. In the meantime, the June 3 special meeting of the NBA Board of Governors remains as scheduled."
If the NBA decides to go ahead with the board's meeting and gets the necessary 75 percent minimum vote to oust the Clippers ownership group, neither Donald nor Shelly would have the right to sell the team and this whole process could start over again with the league conducting the sale, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
The Sterlings would still receive the proceeds but would have no say in the process, the source said.
While there remains concern -- and even an expectation -- that Donald Sterling will continue his fight, sources said all parties involved in the sale felt confident it will proceed.
Silver publicly stated May 20 that the league preferred a voluntary sale, not a sale forced by the league after a vote by the board of governors. However, the league had devised a complex legal strategy to oust Sterling, sources said, had it come to that.
Under the agreement signed Thursday, Ballmer will own 100 percent of the team. Shelly Sterling requested as part of the sale that she continue to have an association with the team, and Ballmer was able to satisfy those terms, sources said.
ESPN reported earlier Thursday that Ballmer's $2 billion bid was the highest submitted, topping those from groups led by music mogul David Geffen ($1.6 billion) and L.A. investors Tony Ressler and Bruce Karsh ($1.2 billion).
News of Ballmer's $2 billion bid was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.