With ruling, Clippers get biggest win


LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers have had more to cheer about over the past three seasons than at any point in their largely star-crossed history. But on a Monday some two months before training camp, in a courtroom two miles from Staples Center, they enjoyed their biggest win in franchise history.

In front of packed courtroom on the second floor of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, Judge Michael Levanas effectively cleared the way for the Clippers to be sold to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.

It was the first championship moment for a franchise that has never made it past the second round of the NBA playoffs.

Shelly Sterling was in tears as she hugged her attorneys and was congratulated by spectators outside the courtroom.

"I'm just happy it's over," she said. "A great man will be taking over the team now."

The clouds that have enveloped the Clippers for the past three months since Donald Sterling's racist comments led to his ban from the NBA have finally begun to burn off.

Wearing sunglasses outside the courtroom, Shelly Sterling smiled as she talked about the judge's ruling and the future of the team.

"This is going to be a good thing for the city, for the league for my family and for all of us," she said. "Come see the Clippers next year."

Of course, this isn't the end of Donald Sterling. The most litigious owner in sports history always has viewed judges' decisions as the beginning, not the end of fights. "He was calm," said Bobby Samini, Donald Sterling's attorney. "He only saw this as one battle in a long war."

The message to his attorneys on Monday was "keep fighting," and they plan to do just that with two pending lawsuits against the league and Shelly Sterling. That should come as no surprise from a man who said he would sue the NBA until the day he dies.

But the truth is, Donald Sterling's vise grip on the Clippers effectively ended on Monday. He and his attorneys can continue to fire one legal Hail Mary after another. But his time in the NBA is over, and he will be nothing more than a distant, horrible memory when the season begins.

This was never about the team or the money or the city or even his family for Donald Sterling. That's not an opinion; that's a message from his lawyers. This was and always has been about him and his mission to be vindicated and not fall on the sword of racist remarks he felt he made in the privacy of his home.

The fact that Shelly Sterling even had to go to court in order to sell the team for a record $2 billion, nearly four times more than the highest amount ever paid for an NBA team, illustrates the bizarre nature of this case.

Indeed, Donald Sterling "lost" because his $12.5 million investment in 1981 will be sold for $2 billion next month. We all wish we could be such losers.

Shelly Sterling said she would sit down and talk to her husband in the aftermath of the verdict. When asked if she thought he would drop his pending lawsuits, she said, "I'm sure he will."

In fact, Shelly Sterling is confident that her husband will one day be able to go to Clippers games with her again.

"Oh, absolutely, he'll be able to," she said. "I think the ban will be lifted. There's a new owner and a new sheriff town, and it's going to be good. It's going to be good for the city, for the fans, for the league, for everybody, and that's all we want."

As great as Monday was for the Clippers, it could be even greater for Donald Sterling, provided he truly wants to attend Clippers' games again. If he changed his focus and shifted his resources from suing the NBA and his wife to using some of the money from the sale of the team to do some good in Los Angeles -- such as donating to charitable causes without feeling the need to pat himself on the back -- Donald Sterling might finally get the vindication he hopelessly is trying to find in the courtroom.