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Why Steve Ballmer's $2 Billion Deal to Buy the L.A. Clippers Took Only a Week

"The only time in history a deal has been put together faster was when J.P. Morgan took over Bear Stearns on the eve of the financial meltdown," Shelly Sterling's attorney says.

Issue 21 REP Steve Ballmer - H 2014
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Shelly Sterling and Pierce O'Donnell

This story first appeared in the June 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's $2 billion agreement to buy the Los Angeles Clippers is astonishing not only for the price tag. The deal came together in less than a week -- the corporate-transaction equivalent of an alley-oop with 0.1 seconds left. The Friday before Memorial Day, Bob Baradaran and Pierce O'Donnell, L.A. lawyers representing Clippers owner Donald Sterling's estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, decided the deal needed to get done quickly. The NBA's board of governors was scheduled to vote June 3 on forcing a sale, and the attorneys wanted to beat a litigious Donald Sterling to the courthouse. Without a prospectus that would take six months to prepare, Baradaran entertained dozens of calls from interested parties during the holiday weekend. He tells THR there were 20 serious bidders, from Oprah Winfrey and David Geffen (partnering with executives of THR parent Guggenheim Partners) to a group out of the Middle East, and all were curious about terms of the team's TV rights deals.

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The eight most credible bidders were given not a typical 100-page contract to review but rather a single sheet with an empty box for a dollar figure and a space to list noneconomic demands. Ballmer, who outbid a $1.6 billion offer from the Winfrey group, was crowned the winner the day after the May 28 deadline, and he and Shelly Sterling signed sale papers at the Greenberg Glusker law firm that evening. "The only time in history a deal has been put together faster was when J.P. Morgan took over Bear Stearns on the eve of the financial meltdown," boasts Baradaran, whose team announced the transaction hours before Donald Sterling's $1 billion lawsuit against the NBA hit.