Shelly signed the purchase agreement to sell the team to Ballmer late on the night of May 29 at her attorney's office. She rode down the elevator with him and got an exuberant bear hug from the big man whose rousing speeches and sweat-soaked shirts at corporate gatherings are the stuff of YouTube legend.
When they reached the ground floor, he called her "partner" and told her he'd take good care of the team. She could sit courtside at Staples and call herself the "Clippers' No. 1 fan." If they ever won an NBA title, she'd get three championship rings. And to make some good come from all this ugliness, they discussed plans for the franchise to start and fund a foundation to help underprivileged children and abused women in Los Angeles.
The NBA called off the hearing to terminate Sterling and began readying to stage a Finals rematch between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.
Sterling's racist comments struck a deep chord with players around the NBA, and it echoed beyond the repugnance of his worldview. Still stung by the tremendous financial losses they suffered at the hands of league owners during the 2011 NBA lockout -- a lockout many see as a direct response to Miami's "Big Three" orchestrating moves independent of ownership authority -- players are acutely aware of negotiating their rights to self-determination and of having a say and a stake in future development of the league and its assets.
When Sterling told Stiviano that he supports his players and gives them "food, and clothes, and cars, and houses," and asked her, "Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game?" it cut straight to the heart of these issues. This was about more than racist language. It was about power. To Sterling, the players were kids he could parade onstage at a party at the Beverly Hills Hotel. And that is, of course, not how they see themselves. They are the talent. The product. The image. The stars. And not just for what they do on the basketball court. They are businessmen. They build their own brands. They market and sell themselves directly to sponsors. They communicate directly with fans.
"Players are far more in tune with owning themselves," Kobe Bryant said. "When [Sterling] said that, it cut deep into the spirit of progression for us. Sterling's point of view was horrible not only for the human race but also for the small world that touches so many globally through this game we call basketball. He stunted equality and black-eyed every owner of every business where the majority of his employees are minorities. He hurt our trust in owners as a whole."
[Sterling] stunted equality and black-eyed every owner of every business where the majority of his employees are minorities. He hurt our trust in owners as a whole." -- Kobe Bryant
On April 26, in the wake of the Sterling tapes going public, LeBron James told reporters gathered in Charlotte that, "there is no room for Donald Sterling in our league" and called on commissioner Silver to "make a stand." Two days later, he called Chris Paul, "just to let him know I was there if he needed me." This was his game. CP3 was his guy.