LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Steve Ballmer, the former head of Microsoft (MSFT.O), completed a $2 billion purchase of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team on Tuesday, ending an ugly saga involving former owner Donald Sterling who was banned for life over racist remarks.
The 58-year-old tech billionaire has vowed to make the team a pillar in the community after Sterling’s comments published nearly four months sparked public outrage, caused sponsors to quit and players to consider a boycott during the Clippers’ playoff run.
“The Clippers franchise is a true public trust, and my goal is that the Clippers will play an ever-increasing role in the life of our community,” Ballmer said in an open letter to fans.
“I pledge this: I will be hard core in my commitment to give the team the support it needs to be its best on and off the court,” he added.
The NBA-record deal closed at around 9 a.m. (1600 GMT), after Ballmer’s attorney, Adam Streisand, picked up an order from a Los Angeles probate court confirming that Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly, had the right to sell the team, Streisand said.
Sterling, who has owned the team for 33 years, has asked a California appeals court to halt the deal, saying he believed the probate court ruled too broadly in letting the sale be completed before his appeal could be heard.
The NBA still faces civil lawsuits in California and U.S. courts from Sterling, who says the league’s actions relied on illegal evidence and violated corporate law in its attempts to have the team sold.
The NBA has filed a counterclaim in federal court alleging Sterling’s behavior has damaged the league and that Shelly Sterling has given the league legal indemnity from her husband.
The NBA Board of Governors had previously approved the sale.
WIFE: “IT WILL WORK OUT”
Shelly Sterling, 79, struck the sale deal with Ballmer in May, a month after the NBA banned her 80-year-old real estate billionaire husband for life and fined him $2.5 million for his privately taped and published remarks imploring a girlfriend not to publicly associate with black people.
A majority of players in the NBA are black.
Upset the league would not lift his ban or rescind the fine, Sterling vowed to block the sale, forcing his wife to go to court to have the deal go through.
“I hate losing the team, but it’s going to a wonderful person,” Shelly Sterling said at a news conference.
Shelly Sterling, who unlike her husband will be able to attend Clippers games, said she had not spoken to him yet on Tuesday.
“I‘m sure it’ll all work out,” she added.
Ballmer, who had previously pursued an NBA franchise, will make his first public appearance as owner at a Clippers fan rally next Monday.
He is worth an estimated $21.3 billion, according to Forbes magazine, and is the 31st wealthiest person in the United States.
Additional reporting by Steve Ginsburg and Mary Milliken; Editing by Jeremy Laurence