The LA Times is reporting that Steve Ballmer, the hugely Photoshoppable former Microsoft CEO, has agreed to buy the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion, winning the bidding war to take over ownership from Donald Sterling.
The $2 billion figure would be a record for an NBA franchise. The previous high was $550 million for the Milwaukee Bucks, set just six weeks ago.
The agreement with Ballmer hinges on the agreement of Donald Sterling, who has gone back and forth on how hard he will fight it—recently saying he'd fight the NBA "to the death," though somewhat backing off that recently. His wife, however, has been in favor of selling the team.
We'd point out that while $2 billion is a MASSIVE amount of money, it sort goes to further exacerbate the real sticking point in any forced sale: the capital gains tax. There's a Sterling family trust, and whatever configuration of taxes would be applied to the sale look like they would be north of $500 million.
The NBA today said that it would look into waiving Board of Governors vote on Sterling's ownership, scheduled for June 3, if a buyer and transfer looks like it will be secured without it. This would allow the NBA to sidestep a fight over the legality of its decision. Despite the years and years and years of evidence of material, harmful acts of racist housing discrimination and other gross stories, the league's case hinged around the audio of Sterling fleshing out racist world views, and Sterling actually raised a compelling point recently, that the punishment for similar public bigotry (notably Kobe and Shaq) was nowhere near as severe as a forced sale.
Ballmer is worth around $20 billion, and does not appear to have partnered with an ownership group; if he buys, it'll all belong to the chrome dome. Last year, he had been part of a group that attempted to buy the Sacramento Kings and move them to Seattle (where Microsoft is based). There is no indication that Ballmer will attempt to move the team to Seattle—L.A. is a huuuuge market, obviously—but to be extra sure, the league will have to unanimously OK the sale, and will request Ballmer's agreement to not relocate the team. (That said, Clay Bennett promised to make a "good faith effort" to keep the Sonics in Seattle, so those agreements don't go very far once rubber meets road.)
This would be great for the league in a number of ways, in large part because Ballmer would be a very fun owner and is great in public, while at the same time carrying the reputation of instituting nightmarish corporate structure at Microsoft and squandering a huge lead in the marketplace—which would fit in just fine with the Clippers as we know them.
It is, however, a loss, only in that the next-leading bid (reportedly $1.6 billion) was from the Guggenheim group, which is led by David Geffen, but includes Magic Johnson, and Magic sitting in the owner's box at the end of all this might have been enough ironic satisfaction to just fix race relations, permanently, for the rest of time.
Update (8:14 p.m. EDT): Dakota Smith of the Los Angeles Daily News is also reporting that a source tells her there has been no agreement on a final bid, and the Times jumped the gun.
Meanwhile, LA Times tech reporter Andrea Chang reports from Sterling's home that his lawyer tells her, "My belief is he will not sell this team." He also said that since Sterling "already had a couple billion dollars," even if the bid had been $10 billion, it "wouldn't change his life in any way." Follow Chang here for up-to-the-minute coverage from the Sterling residence.
Update (9:24 p.m. EDT): Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reports that the "Sterling family trust" has agreed to sell the team, and Donald Sterling's approval was not needed to sell the team.
Update (11:10 p.m. EDT): More from Shelburne. She reported that Donald Sterling was apparently deemed mentally unfit by "experts," which is how the Sterling family trust—including estranged wife Shelly Sterling—was able to sell without his signature.
We will update the post as we have more details.
Correction: A previous version of this post was overly broad about capital gains taxes as they apply to this sale. The portion has been amended.