The billionaire suitors came one after another, pulling up to the beachfront mansion just steps up the coast from the exclusive Malibu Colony. A lucky few had been asked to meet with Shelly Sterling — the Clippers were for sale.
Steve Ballmer visited first, on the Sunday before Memorial Day. Afterward, he and Shelly Sterling went to a favorite haunt, Nobu, where the elite nibble on Lobster Shiitake Salad ($46) in a wood-paneled dining room just above the waves.
------------FOR THE RECORD:
Clippers sale: An article in the June 8 Section A about bidding for the Los Angeles Clippers reported that Guggenheim Partners bought the Dodgers for a record $2.15 billion. In fact, the Dodgers are owned by Guggenheim Baseball Management, which is owned by a group that includes Mark Walter and Todd Boehly. Both Walter and Boehly are principals in Guggenheim Partners. They also joined in the bidding for the Clippers as part of a group that was headed by entertainment mogul David Geffen. —
The former Microsoft executive recalled that she seemed bittersweet about selling the basketball team but determined to see it go to a worthy successor. Ballmer was charmed by her fervor for the Clippers.
"It was like speed dating," one of the participants said, adding: "I'm sure it was exhilarating to her to have the undivided attention of all these very important people, these outliers."
Those who visited agreed: Shelly Sterling seemed calm and in control.
That the team came on the market was a huge surprise. That Shelly Sterling was steering the sale was even more unexpected.
Donald Sterling, 80, had been the controlling owner and public face of the team for more than three decades; his 79-year-old wife was the Clippers' voluble cheerleader.
Her distinctive head of platinum blond hair shone at courtside during home games and she chattered endlessly: clucking at opposing players, picking minutely over her own team's strengths and weaknesses. When the Clippers won she gathered with friends for a celebratory toast.
It was in late April that Donald Sterling's outsized passions and prejudices, heard on an audio recording released by a gossip website, embarrassed and angered the NBA. Commissioner Adam Silver resolved to oust him. After nearly a month of outrage, the disgraced owner told his real estate attorney to draw up a short letter.
"Mr. Sterling agrees to the sale of his interest in the Los Angeles Clippers," read the May 22 directive, adding that Sterling gave his wife the right to negotiate with the NBA regarding "all issues in connection with a sale."
This account of the frenetic week that followed is drawn from interviews with many of the principals in the hurried transaction. Most signed non-disclosure agreements with Shelly Sterling and asked to remain anonymous to describe the competition to buy the Clippers.
In control on the basketball front, at long last, Shelly Sterling wasted no time.
She quickly chose Bank of America Merrill Lynch, long a steward of the family's finances, and Greenberg Glusker, the law firm representing her in her own struggles with the NBA, to conduct the sale.
The bank's president for the Greater Los Angeles area, Raul Anaya, told the billionaires who visited with Shelly Sterling that they had a shot at a rare prize. Another NBA franchise would probably not come up for sale again in Los Angeles in their lifetimes.