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Clippers sale to Steve Ballmer goes through

LOS ANGELES -- Steve Ballmer officially became the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday. The team said the record US$2 billion sale closed after a California court confirmed the authority of Shelly Sterling, on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust, to sell the franchise to the former Microsoft CEO. Her estranged husband, Donald Sterling, had unsuccessfully fought the sale of the team he owned since 1981 in court.

Sterling bought the team in 1981 for US$12 million and presided over decades of losing seasons before engaging in a fierce legal battle with his estranged wife to hold on to his most prized asset.

“I hate losing the team,” Shelly Sterling said at a news conference.

She later added, “It feels good. It would have felt good to own the team, too.”

The NBA Board of Governors had previously approved the sale.

“Really excited — in a pretty hard-core way — to continue the path to making the Clippers a better and better basketball team, and a better and better citizen of the Los Angeles community,” Ballmer told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

The bizarre drama began in April when a recording surfaced of Donald Sterling scolding his girlfriend for bringing black men to Clippers games. The audio spurred the NBA to ban Sterling for life and fine him US$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. The 80-year-old real estate mogul 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 Ballmer deal. He said he would sue the league instead and then revoked the trust, which his lawyers said effectively killed the deal.

Shelly Sterling removed Donald as a trustee after doctors found he had symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

Adam Streisand, Ballmer's attorney, said Tuesday that Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas signed the order authorizing the sale even if Donald Sterling's attorneys filed an appeal.

Pierce O'Donnell, Shelly Sterling's attorney, said at the news conference that Donald Sterling had filed a petition opposing the sale.

“They're alleging the judge made errors,” O'Donnell said. “We believe it's another desperate act. We're confident the court of appeals will not take the case.”

Streisand said even if Donald Sterling seeks an emergency order directing the judge to vacate his order, the attorney is confident an appellate court would agree that Levanas made the correct decision.

Donald Sterling's attorneys weren't immediately available to comment.

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In this Jan. 25 file photo, then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, left, shakes hands with former NBA players Bill Russell, right, and “Downtown” Freddie Brown as Omar Lee looks on during an NCAA college basketball game between Washington and Oregon State in Seattle. (AP)

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