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Judge OKs record-setting $2 billion Clippers sale

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Judge OKs record-setting $2 billion Clippers sale

LOS ANGELES -- Embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling lost his attempt to block the $2 billion sale of the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

In allowing the deal to go forward, Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas sided Monday with Sterling's estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, who negotiated the record sale after the NBA banned the 80-year-old billionaire for making offensive remarks about blacks.

Shelly Sterling sought the probate judge's approval to ink the deal after taking over the family trust that owns the team because doctors found Donald Sterling had signs of Alzheimer's disease and couldn't manage his affairs.

The judge said Shelly Sterling had negotiated a good deal and the removal of her husband as a co-trustee was in good faith and not part of a secret plan to seize the team.

Shelly Sterling hugged her lawyer and wept after the judge explained his ruling from the bench.

"I can't believe it's over," she said. "This is the best thing."

An unusual provision of the ruling bars Donald Sterling from seeking a court-ordered delay of the sale as he appeals. His lawyers plan to seek permission from an appellate court to file an appeal.

Sterling was not in court for the ruling. Bobby Samini, one of his lawyers, said Sterling reacted calmly to the news and told his lawyers they had to keep battling on other fronts. Sterling testified during the case that he would fight the NBA until his death.

With lawsuits pending in state and federal courts, the ruling in Los Angeles County Superior Court is unlikely to put an end to the bizarre saga that began in April when a recording surfaced of Sterling scolding his young girlfriend for bringing black men to Clippers games.

The NBA moved quickly to ban Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million.

Sterling was apologetic after the audio recording went viral, but his mea culpa backfired when he criticized Lakers great Magic Johnson, who had been photographed with Sterling's girlfriend, as a bad role model for kids because he had HIV. Sterling was roundly condemned from locker rooms to the Oval Office, where President Barack Obama called Sterling's remarks "incredibly offensive racist statements."

With the NBA threatening to seize the team and auction it, Sterling initially gave his wife of 58 years permission to negotiate a sale but then refused to sign the $2 billion Ballmer deal, which would be a record price for an NBA team. He said he would sue the league instead and then revoked the trust, which his lawyers said effectively killed the deal.

The nonjury trial held over several weeks focused mainly on whether Shelly Sterling properly removed her husband as a trustee and whether her actions carried any weight after he revoked the trust.

Donald Sterling claimed his wife had deceived him about the medical exams. His lawyers argued Monday that Shelly Sterling's lawyers were in cahoots with the doctors who examined him and that his wife conspired with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to remove him from the trust.

"There's no evidence, I'll repeat that as loudly as you allow," attorney Maxwell Blecher said during closing argument, his voice rising. "There's no evidence that Mr. Sterling was incapable of carrying out his duties as a co-trustee."

Levanas said there was no credible evidence that Sterling was defrauded.

Blecher said he was deeply disappointed in the judge's legal analysis.

The ruling Monday was tentative until the judge files it in writing.

NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement that the league was pleased and looked forward to the transaction closing as soon as possible.

At the conclusion of his lengthy ruling, Levanas envisioned what might happen if Donald Sterling remained the owner.

Citing testimony of Clippers interim CEO Richard Parsons, he said the team would go into a "death spiral." Sponsors would withdraw, players would quit and coach Doc Rivers would leave.

"The Clippers would suffer a massive loss of value if the team survived at all," Levanas said.

The judge was adamant that a team owned by Donald Sterling would not draw a price anywhere near the "stunning" $2 billion pledged by Ballmer. Sterling, a lawyer who made a fortune as a landlord, bought the team in 1981 for $12 million.

"Ballmer paid an amazing price that can't be explained by the market," he said.

On the witness stand, Shelly Sterling was more credible than her husband, who was more evasive, gave inconsistent answers and presented wild fluctuations of damage estimates, Levanas said.

He noted that the couple presented genuine professions of love for each other despite Donald Sterling's outburst calling his wife a "pig" after she testified.

Outside of court, his wife said she thought her husband would be happy with the ruling. She said she thinks he will ultimately drop his antitrust suit in federal court against the NBA and the lawsuit he filed in state court against her, Silver and the league.

Her lawyer wasn't so sure. Asked what might stop the deal, Pierce O'Donnell said: "Donald."

"He never met a lawsuit he didn't like," he quipped.

Bruce Givner, a Los Angeles tax attorney who handles celebrity cases, said he thinks Sterling's lawsuits will fail and an appeals court won't care about the probate case.

"I think the sale is going to go through," Givner said. "I suspect the NBA is ready to move very quickly. They want to get rid of Sterling like a canker sore. Nobody wants him around except the people that are charging legal fees to continue this charade."

AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch contributed to this report.

Markelle Fultz quietly shows growth as Sixers plan to expand his role

Markelle Fultz quietly shows growth as Sixers plan to expand his role

Things weren’t going well for Markelle Fultz in his home debut.

Fultz missed all three of his shot attempts after entering the game in the first quarter. Two of those were blocked, with one a filthy snuff on a layup by the man he will be connected to forever: Jayson Tatum.

In between misfires, the No. 1 overall pick committed two personal fouls. The second came on a three-point shot by Terry Rozier III.

After 4:34 of action, Fultz slinked his way back to the bench.

And then a literal weight was lifted off his ailing shoulder.

Fultz returned to the court late in the second and immediately went on the attack. He drove right to the rim on Tatum and forced a foul.

That meant the 19-year-old with the banged-up right shoulder had to step to the free throw line and show off that oft-criticized shooting form.

Splash. Splash.

The points elicited a roar from the crowd and even a slight reaction from Fultz.

“Just a little smile at the fans. I saw somebody on the baseline just looking, so I just smiled,” Fultz said.

“It’s something I’ve been working on to get through this, so I was happy.”

Happy, but not content.

From that moment, Fultz looked like a different player. Not statistically as he finished with just six points on 2 for 9 shooting with three rebounds, one assist and one steal in the Sixers102-92 loss in their home opener.

However, the guard played with more energy on both ends of the court. He continued to drive hard to the basket offensively while he fought through screens and battled bigger bodies on D.

“I think I have a lot to improve on, but I also think I’m learning each night I come out and taking baby steps to improve on the stuff I did last game,” Fultz said. “I think I’m in a pretty good spot, but I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

One thing the team has learned so far is to get Fultz coming off more screens at the top of the key. Sixers head coach Brett Brown liked what he saw when Fultz had the ball in his hands with the reserves and was able to get downhill in a hurry off pick plays.

“I think it’s going to be something where we put him in more pick-and-rolls to try to get him more in the middle of the floor,” Brown said. “How we do that, I see it quite clearly. I think lately just trying to get him up and down the floor and get his fitness base and find some level of confidence has been most on my mind. But I agree with you, he has a skill that we have to tap into.”

“I’m just working on being wherever I need to be to help this team win,” Fultz said. “Pick-and-roll is one of the things I feel like I’m good at, so if that’s helping the team win I’m going to go do it.”

But that doesn’t mean Fultz is about to go rogue and start calling his own number all the time. Despite being the top pick in June’s draft, he knows this team’s engine starts with Joel Embiid, particularly when the big man is in the paint.

“If he’s in the game and he’s in the post, get him the ball,” Fultz said. “Whether I’m off the ball to screen away. If I’ve got the ball in my hands, find him. Whenever he’s on the floor we’ve got to find a way to get him the ball. He’s a great passer, so he’s going to draw a lot of attention. Any time he’s in there we have to get him the ball.”

A nodding Embiid agreed from a few feet away at his own locker.

“He’s right,” the big man said between bites of an apple. “That’s the right answer.”

The rookie is a fast learner.

Best of NBA: Curry, Thompson, Durant lead Warriors comeback over Pelicans

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Best of NBA: Curry, Thompson, Durant lead Warriors comeback over Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS — Klay Thomspon scored 31 points, Stephen Curry added 28 and the Golden State Warriors easily erased a 15-point first-half deficit en route to a 128-120 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night.

Kevin Durantadded 22 points for the Warriors, who won for the first time this young season after dropping their opener to Houston. New Orleans is still looking for its first victory after two games, shooting well early in both games before fading in the second half.

Anthony Davis had 35 points and 17 rebounds for the Pelicans, while fellow big man DeMarcus Cousins also had 35 points.

The teams combined for 34 3-pointers, with the Warriors hitting 18. Thompson was 7 of 12 from deep.

After trailing by double digits much of the fourth quarter, the Pelicans pulled as close as five points down on Cousins' 3 with about three minutes to go. But Thompson responded immediately with a 3, and Golden State remained comfortably in control from there (see full recap). 

Ball flirts with triple-double, Lakers hold on to beat Suns​
PHOENIX — Lonzo Ball barely missed a triple-double with 29 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in his second NBA game and the Los Angeles Lakers held on to beat the Phoenix Suns 132-130 on Friday night.

The Suns had a chance to tie it with 1.2 seconds to play, but T.J. Warren missed the first of two free throws. That meant he had to miss the second intentionally and hope for a rebound, but the Suns couldn't get a decent shot off before the buzzer.

Ball, the No. 2 overall pick this year who is a week shy of his 20th birthday, took over down the stretch, scoring eight points in a 2 1/2-minute span. His final basket during that run, a floating layup, put Los Angeles ahead 130-122 with 1:35 to play.

But the Suns came roaring back behind Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker, whose 3-pointer with 6.4 seconds left cut it to 131-130. Brandon Ingram made one of two free throws to give Phoenix one last chance and Warren was fouled by Ingram on an inbounds play.

The free throw was off the back of the rim, though, and the Lakers survived (see full recap). 

Nets beat Magic in first game without Lin despite Vucevic’s career-high 41 points
NEW YORK — Jeremy Lin was in the hospital Friday, rather than joining his teammates for their home opener.

The Brooklyn Nets are going to miss him, but they showed they still have plenty of firepower without him.

D’Angelo Russell, Trevor Booker and DeMarre Carroll all scored 17 points, and the Nets beat the Orlando Magic 126-121.

Brooklyn had six players in double figures, three more with nine points and got 64 points from its reserves to bounce back after yielding 140 points Wednesday night in a season-opening loss to Indiana.

Lin ruptured the patella tendon in his right knee late in that game and had season-ending surgery Friday morning (see full recap). 

James and Korver heat up from 3, Cavs beat Bucks
MILWAUKEE — Lebron James had 24 points and eight assists, and Kyle Korver hit three straight 3s in a decisive third-quarter run to help the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 116-97 on Friday night.

Kevin Love added 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Cavs. Their 15-5 spurt over the final 4:25 of the third quarter, sparked by Korver's long-range shooting, opened a 13-point lead. Cleveland led by double digits most of the rest of the way to spoil the Bucks' home opener.

The defending Eastern Conference champions started the season with a second straight victory over an East contender after beating the Boston Celtics in their home opener.

Korver finished with 17 points and was 5 of 6 from 3-point territory.

Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo had 34 points on 15-of-22 shooting, along with eight rebounds and eight assists. Malcolm Brogdon had 16 points (see full recap).