The sad last chapter of Sterling's life

When Shelly saw Donald's meandering interview with Cooper on CNN, in which he went from apologizing for his comments to insulting Magic Johnson and the black community, she returned to L.A. and suggested to him that he get checked out. He agreed, and on May 16 his friend Lawrence drove him to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he had CT and PET scans. Three days later, he was examined by a neurologist, Dr. Meril Sue Platzer, who put him through a standard mental status exam. She asked him to spell the word "world" backward. He could not. According to probate documents filed by Shelly, Sterling was also "unaware of the season and initially had difficulty drawing a clock," Platzer wrote in her report concluding that he had Alzheimer's.

Sterling got a second opinion from UCLA professor Dr. James Spar on May 22. The exam was conducted at the Sterlings' Beverly Hills home on the same day Shelly, Donald and their longtime personal attorney, Douglas Walton, decided they would sell the Clippers if they could get $2 billion for the team. Walton sent a letter to the NBA informing it of the arrangement between the Sterlings.

Spar confirmed Platzer's diagnosis after Sterling had difficulty performing several tests to measure his cognition, admitted he had trouble recalling words, names and streets, and said that "sometimes I get confused when I get off the elevator." Shelly sat with Donald as the doctor told him he indeed showed signs of Alzheimer's and had probably had it for at least three years. Donald seemed to listen but only nodded and said, "Oh, OK. I'm hungry. Can we go get something to eat?"


At the time, it was purely informational. Now that he'd been diagnosed, doctors could start treating it. But Sterling had a change of heart about the sale a few days later, declaring in statements released by his lawyer that he was being unfairly shoved out over an argument he'd had with a former mistress who might have been baiting him. He instructed Blecher -- the antitrust lawyer he had used back in the 1980s when he'd fought the NBA after moving the Clippers from San Diego to Los Angeles without approval -- to challenge the NBA's charges against him and, in Blecher's words, "draw your sword and slay the bastards."

The NBA pressed forward with its plans to hold a hearing on June 3, at which it planned to terminate both Sterlings' ownership interests. With the Alzheimer's diagnosis, Shelly's attorneys knew they had a trump card. If Donald were determined to be mentally incompetent, she could become the sole trustee of the Sterling Family Trust, which controlled the Clippers.

It might have been an option of last resort, but it wasn't just about Donald anymore. Their granddaughter was getting called names at school. Reporters were hounding family members, who were hurriedly changing cellphone numbers, trying to stay ahead of the pack. Eric Miller, Donald and Shelly's son-in-law who was being groomed to take over the Clippers one day, was so ashamed he barely came into the office.

Shelly pushed to sell the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion and indemnified the NBA against any future lawsuits from her husband. Donald could keep fighting, but the only one left to fight was Shelly. Even if he won his lawsuit seeking $1 billion in damages from the NBA, the indemnity meant either the Sterling Family Trust or Shelly herself would pay it. He was, in essence, suing himself.

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