The complete Donald Sterling saga timeline

Sterling: USA TODAY Sports, Kirby Lee / Ballmer: Getty Images

How did the 33-year tenure of Clippers owner Donald Sterling come to an end? Let's take a look at the key events of the past few weeks.

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After roughly 33 years under the ownership of Donald Sterling and his family, the Los Angeles Clippers appear to be entering a new era. With the sale of the franchise to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion, which has been confirmed by a statement from Sterling's wife, Shelly, the longest-tenured owners in the NBA are soon making their way out of the league, pending league approval and assuming no last-minute Sterling madness.

Like most of Sterling's time running Los Angeles' No. 2 hoops franchise, the conclusion arrives in a bizarre, clouded situation where the only apparent winner is his bank account. But for fans of the once-beleaguered team, a saga that began over a month ago with reports from TMZ has actually led to a somewhat happy ending.

With Ballmer in place, the future seems brighter for the Clippers than it has in a while. Considering how Sterling's ownership seemed secure just months ago, let's take a look at just how we got here:


April 25: The whole situation began on a quiet Saturday morning when TMZ released recorded audio of a man, who was believed to be Donald Sterling, making offensive, racist comments towards V. Stiviano, Sterling's personal assistant.

Photo credit: Ronald Martinez

At this point, nobody is certain whether the recording is legitimate, but few doubt it given Sterling's lengthy history of racial discrimination. That night, Clippers players held a meeting to discuss the news, less than 24 hours before the team would play Golden State in Game 4 of a first-round playoff series.

April 26: Public responses to Sterling flood in during that weekend, including words from respected basketball legends like Magic Johnson and LeBron James, as well as current Clippers like Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. The "Inside the NBA" crew over at TNT also digs into the situation, offering TV viewers a solid, sobered take on things.

Meanwhile, commissioner Adam Silver calls the recording "truly offensive and disturbing," but says Sterling will be afforded due process. Numerous owners also speak out on the matter, many offering their vocal support of the commissioner's office to respond appropriately.

Prior to their Game 4 loss against the Warriors, the Clippers' players staged a protest by tossing their warm-up jackets at midcourt.

April 27: The developments keep coming just two days after the initial revelation, including the release of a second recording and public comments from President Barack Obama. The message to NBA leadership is clear: Sterling needs to go.

April 28: Major sponsors begin to drop the Clippers, including State Farm, Kia, CarMax and Virgin America. Head coach Doc Rivers tells reporters he's not sure he'll stay with the Clippers next season if Sterling still owns the franchise.


April 29: The question was never whether the NBA would punish Sterling, it was simply how harsh the terms would be. Just four days after the news first came to light, commissioner Adam Silver made one of the defining moves of his still-brief, already-impressive tenure leading the league. Sterling got the ban hammer, receiving an indefinite suspension from the NBA in addition to a fine of $2.5 million, the maximum amount allowed. Silver also announced that the other owners would move forward with a plan to remove Sterling from ownership, forcing him to sell the team for violations of rules in the NBA's constitutional by-laws.

Photo credit: Adam Marlin, USA Today Sports

That night, the Clippers hosted their first playoff game since the news first emerged, the arena full of fans supporting their favorite team. In the fourth quarter, chants of "We Are One" could be heard from the Staples Center rafters. We also learn that the Warriors planned to boycott the game before Sterling's ban was announced. L.A. came away with a difficult victory to take a 3-2 series lead.

April 30: Rumors surrounding possible new owners for the Clippers start swirling, with names like Oprah Winfrey and Floyd Mayweather being thrown around.

May 2-3: Reports emerge that Sterling has been dealing with prostate cancer. No other details are provided. Additionally, the NBA and the Clippers announce that they will jointly hire a new CEO to handle the team's operations.

May 9: Richard Parsons, the former chairman of Time Warner Cable and Citigroup, is named the Clippers' new CEO. He's hired despite having zero basketball front office experience, and may or may not have played college ball at the University of Hawaii.

Meanwhile, Sterling claims he only uttered those remarks because he was trying to sleep with Stiviano and was jealous of her associating with other men.


May 12: Sterling's problems originated from his own mouth, so it shouldn't be surprising that he didn't do much to help himself during an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper. The interview included gems such as:

"I just don't think [Magic Johnson is] a good example for the children of Los Angeles. That he would go and do what he did, and go get AIDS. I mean, come on."

And ...

"The players don't hate me. The sponsors don't hate me. The fans don't hate me. The media hates me. It's all the media."

Numerous key figures, including Silver and Rivers, came to the defense of Johnson after Sterling's comments.

May 13: Sterling's estranged wife, Shelly, tells the TODAY Show that she believes Donald Sterling has dementia. "He's not the man I know, or I knew,'' she said to Savannah Guthrie. "There's something wrong. I really think, personally, he has dementia."

Photo credit: Kirby Lee, USA Today Sports

May 15: Sterling hires Maxwell Blecher, a prominent anti-trust lawyer, who informs NBA executive vice president and general counsel Rick Buchanan that his client will refuse current sanctions as his actions do not warrant "any punishment at all." The news begins a bizarre back-and-forth concerning Sterling's actual intentions for fighting the league.

May 19: The NBA announces its formal charge seeking to remove Sterling from ownership for violations of the league's constitutional by-laws. A vote is set for June 3, where 22 of the 29 owners would need to vote the affirmative for the measure to pass. Sterling is given until May 27 to officially respond.

May 22: Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made some controversial comments on racism during a conference for entrepreneurs in Nashville, Tenn, suggesting that "none of us have pure thoughts; we all live in glass houses." Though the comments were not directly related to Sterling and may have been misconstrued, Cuban was sharply criticized.

May 23: A number of new developments, including details of how the recordings were made, lies to the league and blackmail between Sterling and Stiviano, add weight to the NBA's arguments for banning the Clippers owner.

Sterling also reportedly gives Shelly permission to sell the franchise without his signing off. The NBA doesn't immediately respond to this development, probably because the league wasn't actually sure what Sterling planned to do.

That inconsistency became a defining factor of Sterling's statements and public behavior, as mixed messages continually hit the media regarding his intentions. Would he allow a sale? Would the former lawyer spend millions on one final, massive legal battle?

May 27: Sterling sends a 32-page statement to the NBA responding to its "illegal" punishment, saying that a forced sale of the team would require his family to pay an "egregious" capital gains tax. This makes it sound like he will fight any potential sale.


May 29: After all that legal posturing, huffing and puffing, the bombshell finally came late on Thursday night: former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer would buy the Clippers for $2 billion, beating out at least two other prominent investors in the bidding.

Shelly Sterling and Ballmer reached the agreement after medical experts deemed the 80-year-old Donald Sterling to be "mentally incapacitated," turning over sole trusteeship of the franchise to his wife. That gave her the ability to complete the sale without his permission, despite the legal statements he's released in the past few weeks.

Sterling and Ballmer confirmed the sale via a statement, though the NBA's Board of Governors still needs to approve before everything is complete. However, given the direction things appeared to be going, the NBA is likely happy that one of its big-market franchises landed a new owner without the need for an expensive, messy legal battle.


Now the Clippers have a new owner, and the Sterling family is that much wealthier, assuming things go through. The NBA must approve the sale and fight off any legal battle from Donald Sterling, but a saga that threatened to take months or even years may be tied up quickly.


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