Donald Sterling To Sue The NBA For $1 Billion

Sterling will take the NBA to court over its efforts to wrest control of the L.A. Clippers away from him.

Updated — May 30, 6 p.m. PT

Kirby Lee / Reuters

Donald Sterling at an NBA game on Jan. 10.

Embattled L.A. Clippers co-owner Donald Sterling has filed a $1 billion lawsuit against the NBA. In an email, his attorney Max Blecher told BuzzFeed the suit was filed Friday.

Blecher described the lawsuit as an antitrust case "in part." Blecher also confirmed that if Sterling were to win an antitrust case, his payout could actually end up in the neighborhood of $3 billion.

The lawsuit comes a day after Sterling's estranged wife and Clippers co-owner Shelly Sterling inked a deal to sell the team for $2 billion to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

It was unclear if Donald Sterling would have to sign off on the sale. Blecher said Thursday that Donald's approval was needed, but in a news release Shelly's lawyer described her as the "sole trustee." A source close to the family reiterated that characterization Friday to BuzzFeed, saying Shelly did indeed have the authority to sell the team on her own.

The Associated Press reported Friday that Donald was stripped of his ability to act as a trustee for the team when he was diagnosed with dementia. Other media have described Donald as having Alzheimer's, but when asked about a potential diagnosis Blecher expressed skepticism and suggested asking Shelly.

Friday afternoon, the NBA canceled a meeting of its Board of Governors at which it planned to vote on terminating the Sterlings' ownership of the team. In a news release, the NBA described its dispute with the Sterlings as "resolved" and said the team will in fact be sold to Ballmer.

The NBA, Shelly Sterling and the Sterling Family Trust today resolved their dispute over the ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers. Under the agreement, the Clippers will be sold to Steve Ballmer, pending approval by the NBA Board of Governors, and the NBA will withdraw its pending charge to terminate the Sterlings' ownership of the team. Because of the binding agreement to sell the team, the NBA termination hearing that had been scheduled for June 3 in New York City has now been cancelled. Mrs. Sterling and the Trust also agreed not to sue the NBA and to indemnify the NBA against lawsuits from others, including from Donald Sterling.

The sale and lawsuit are the latest development in a saga that began with Donald making racist comments to a woman known as V. Stiviano. The NBA later fined Sterling and banned him for life. Donald has since vowed to fight the NBA.

Update: Sterling's lawyers posted the lawsuit Friday on their website.

The lawsuit makes a handful of claims and asks for $1 billion in damages. It also asks to have the NBA's sanctions against Sterling — a ban for life and a $2.5 million fine — revoked, as well as for ousted Clippers CEO Andy Roeser to be reinstated.

Following are Sterling's main arguments:

The recording of his racist comments was made illegally and therefore can't be used against him.

According to the lawsuit, California law prohibits recording people without their consent. Sterling argues that because he didn't consent to have his racist comments recorded they basically can't be used for anything. Because the NBA's case is based solely on the recordings "it violates substantive constitutional rights afforded Mr. Sterling by the California Constitution and should be immediately terminated forthwith," the lawsuit states.

The NBA broke its own rules when it penalized Sterling.

Sterling argues that the NBA's constitution doesn't allow the organization to levy a $2.5 million fine, ban him from life, or force him to sell the team. He also argues that the maximum fine the NBA can impose is $1 million.

Sterling goes on to cite examples of other famous people — Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal — who said offensive things but received lesser penalties, or sometimes no penalties at all.

Forcing Sterling to sell violates antitrust laws.

This is probably the most complicated argument Sterling makes, but it's also one of the most important because if he prevails in court it could earn him even more money.

The gist of this argument is that forcing Sterling to sell messes with the free market because it A) reduces competition for ownership of an NBA team, and B) gives Sterling's competitors a say over what happens to his business. He argues that his competitors "each stand to gain financially from Sterling's exclusion from the market."

Other claims include property and constitutional rights violations.

Sterling calls the penalties levied against him "disproportionate to the alleged offense." He also argues that the NBA's conduct is "malicious."

The lawsuit also includes a series of revelations about Sterling and the way his comments came to light.

• Sterling describes the conversation in which he made the racist comments as a "lover's quarrel" with V. Stiviano.

• Stiviano released the recordings to the media in "retaliation" for a lawsuit Shelly filed, according to Sterling's suit.

• Polls conducted by the NBA showed that the Clippers fans began abandoning the team after the scandal broke and would continue to do so if Sterling remained the owner. Sterling, however, questions the actual negative impact on the team and the league.



A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.