NBA Commissioner Adam Silver left open the possibility Tuesday that Donald and Shelly Sterling could still own the Los Angeles Clippers when the new season starts in October.
"It's very difficult to say anything with certainty in a situation like this," Silver said at a news conference following the league's board of governors meeting in Las Vegas. "We are doing everything in our power to remove Donald Sterling as an owner in the NBA."
A court could step in and halt the franchise's record $2 billion sale to Steve Ballmer, Silver said, but the commissioner believes that prospect is "highly, highly unlikely."
The next step depends on the outcome of the Sterlings' ongoing fight in Los Angeles Superior Court. If Shelly Sterling doesn't gain the court's blessing for the sale she orchestrated, Silver said the NBA will move to terminate the Sterlings' ownership. Termination proceedings were scheduled for June 3, then canceled after announcement of the Ballmer deal.
Silver appeared to reference Donald Sterling's contentious court testimony last week, when the owner referred to his wife as a "pig" and opposing attorney Bert Fields as a "smartass."
"I think what's transpired in probate court so far has made it even clearer that we are acting not only within our rights but doing what is right and appropriate in this situation," Silver said.
The trial is recessed until Monday. Closing arguments are expected July 28.
Silver corroborated last week's court testimony by Shelly Sterling that she and the commissioner discussed reducing her husband's $2.5 million fine and lifetime suspension from the NBA in exchange for his approval of the Ballmer deal. Shelly Sterling made "all kinds" of proposals, Silver said, but it was never clear whether she spoke for her husband.
"I never received any proposals from (Donald Sterling's representatives) whether orally or in writing, so it became a moot point," Silver said.
Ballmer, the former Microsoft chief executive, also interviewed with the league's advisory finance committee Tuesday.
"He talked about his passion for NBA basketball and his desire and interest in owning the team," Silver said.
(Times staff writer Mike Bresnahan contributed to this report.)
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