The Sterling Affairs Episode 5

The Donald Sterling story comes to an end where it all started — with a showdown in court. This time, though, it was Donald vs. Shelly.

51 mins

Transcript

[KABC

Fan support for the Clippers remains strong as the team battles the Thunder in the playoffs but scandal continues to swirl around team owner Donald Sterling The NBA hopes to force Donald Sterling to sell the Clippers but his estranged wife Shelly owns a 50 percent stake in the team. She promises to fight to maintain ownership. Fans say the team needs a fresh start.]

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: That first night back in the Staples Center for Game 5, hours after Adam Silver banned Donald Sterling… I noticed a couple sitting in the press room. They were an older couple, wearing matching red shirts that said “Team Shelly” on the front. It caught my attention. In all my years covering the Clippers, I’d never really thought of Shelly as anything more than Donald’s wife — the woman who had stuck it out with an obnoxious, cheating husband for 60 years. But also, Shelly wasn’t exactly a popular figure at the time. Anything associated with the Sterling name was downright toxic. So who were these people brave enough to wear “Team Shelly” shirts to a hostile arena in the middle of all of this?

 

The couple wearing those shirts were Shelly’s dear friend Kathrine Baumann and her husband. My first conversation with Kathrine wasn’t remarkable in any way. But it did, for the first time, wake me up to the fact that Shelly Sterling was not simply the quiet stand by your man housewife that I had imagined she was all those years. She was in the middle of a battle herself. And she was not about to go down without a fight.

 

This is episode 5: Not Fit

 

[NBA PRESSER

REPORTER: Doc the commissioner made it clear that he would like ownership to change with his team and as uncomfortable as it might be to answer this question. Do you think it would be best if Donald Sterling was no longer owner of this team for everyone?

DOC RIVERS: Well, I don’t think he will be. I think that’s been clear. I think Adam’s made that clear.  So I think that’s already been decided and yes I do think that’s the right decision. The next step is where do we go.] 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: The Clippers’ own coach didn’t even know what it meant that Donald was banned, but technically still owned the team. 

 

[AROUND THE HORN

BILL PLASCHKE: Tonight at Staples Center every penny will still go to him. And in the foreseeable future every penny will still go to him. ]

 

[HIGHLY QUESTIONABLE

BOMANI JONES: So you look at this for the players, and they say Donald Sterling can’t come around to anything. You know, what that really changes for their day to day? Nothing.  Because Donald Sterling is still going to be the one that’s out here getting paid.]

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wanted to take the team away from Sterling. The faster he moved, the better the chances of that actually happening. The fans and the public were squarely on his side. He needed the pressure of their outrage to back him up. Because, when it came down to it, whether or not Sterling got to keep his team was on the other owners.

 

[MIKE & MIKE
MIKE GREENBERG: You are members of a very select fraternity and Donald Sterling is a member of your fraternity. And you are either silently endorsing him or you are publicly rebuking him. And that’s what will actually make this change. The other 29 owners. 28 of whom are other rich white guys. Need to do something now. They should already have.] 

 

[AROUND THE HORN

BILL PLASCHKE: A lot of these same owners of the ones that keep him in year after year after year when we knew all the racial stuff was going on out here.] 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: The problem is those other owners were guys who have also said plenty of things in private they wouldn’t want to be held accountable for in public. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was the first to voice his unease.

[ESPN
MARK CUBAN: What Donald’s done within the confines of the NBA. Adam will deal with that within the constitution of the NBA. I’m all for him taking those steps. But in terms of should we kick him out, go outside of the constitution should we start taking steps to really condemn people for what they say in the privacy of their own home, it just happens to be recorded. That’s a slippery slope I don’t want to get on.]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: If other owners were also concerned about that slippery slope, Donald Sterling might still have a chance. All he needed was 7 owners to vote to keep him in.

And then…Donald went on TV.

[CNN
ANDERSON COOPER: I sat down with the embattled LA Clippers owner in his Beverly Hills home for a no-holds-barred interview. There were no ground rules, nothing was off limits and there was no PR entourage telling him what to say and when to stop. These are Sterling’s words and his alone.]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Donald Sterling hadn’t given a sit down interview in nearly 15 years — the last time he’d done one, in April 2000 for Sports Illustrated, he landed on the cover as the worst owner in the history of sports. 

And, now, here he was, giving an interview to Anderson Cooper on CNN. Two weeks had passed since TMZ published that tape, and Donald hadn’t said a word. Not even after Adam Silver banned him for life. Millions of people tuned in to see what he would say. Myself included.

[CNN
DONALD STERLING: I’m not a racist. I made a terrible, terrible mistake, and I’m here with you today to apologize and to ask for forgiveness for all the people that I’ve hurt. And I’ve hurt so many people, so many innocent people. And I’ve hurt myself.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: It was as bizarre of an interview as anything I have ever seen. At times, talking about V., he was weepy and distraught.

[CNN
DONALD STERLING:  Perhaps she’s made some mistakes. I thought she cared for me. I was stupid. How could a girl care for a man 51 years older? She didn’t, or she wouldn’t have released those tapes. But she’s not a bad person, you know?]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: At other times, he was defiant.

[CNN
ANDERSON COOPER: For a lot of people, though, these comments that were caught on tape do echo other charges that have been made in the past, as you know, by Elgin Baylor in other lawsuits that you said-
DONALD STERLING: No, no, no, no, no, no. You’re trying to connect a-
ANDERSON COOPER: No, I’m not.
DONALD STERLING: Elgin Baylor has nothing to do with the things I said 20 years later. What did it have to do-
ANDERSON COOPER: Well, Elgin Baylor made a claim that you had a plantation mentality, and then now, in this thing, you’re saying you feed these guys, you-
DONALD STERLING: I think you have more of a plantation mentality than I do. You know what? I think you’re more of a racist than I am.
ANDERSON COOPER: How so?
DONALD STERLING: Because I’m not a racist and I’ve never been a racist. I’ll never be a racist. I don’t know what that means, that type of mentality. You’re asking me about questions. What do you mean a mentality?]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: He had started by saying he was there to apologize and then kept categorically denying he’d done anything wrong. In a moment where he could have tried to redeem himself, he instead doubled down on his strange vendetta against Magic Johnson. 

[CNN
DONALD STERLING: What has he done? Can you tell me? Big Magic Johnson. What has he done?
ANDERSON COOPER: Well, he’s a business person. He-
DONALD STERLING: He’s got AIDS. Did he do any business? Did he help anybody in South LA?
ANDERSON COOPER: Well, I think he has HIV; he doesn’t actually have full-blown AIDS, but-
DONALD STERLING: What kind of a guy goes to every city, has sex with every girl, then he catches HIV? Is that someone we wanna respect and tell our kids about? I think he should be ashamed of himself. I think he should go into the background. But what does he do for the black people?]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Of all the guys in basketball, past and present, Magic Johnson was pretty universally adored.

 

[CNN

MAGIC JOHNSON: Well, I was just I was blown away. I was — I couldn’t believe that he had said those things]

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: But people watching that interview didn’t know the way Donald had helped Jerry Buss launch showtime. How he’d watched Jerry and Magic form a bond. How being beloved, and being lauded for the way he gave back to his community, the way Magic Johnson was — that that was all Donald Tokowitz had ever wanted.

All those times Donald Sterling had bought himself awards or outright lied about donations he never made…Magic Johnson’s success was real, the respect he earned was real, the money he gave back to his community was real.

 

[CNN
MAGIC JOHNSON: You know, first of all, 22 years ago I announced that I did have HIV and I came out like a man. I told the world. And I hoped that I was able to help people in doing that. And I think I did. And then we’ve given away over 15 million dollars; my foundation. I’ve done a lot of work in the HIV and AIDS community.]

[CNN
DONALD STERLING: He made love to every girl in every city in America and he had AIDS, and when he had those AIDS, I went to my synagogue and I prayed for him. I hoped he could live and be well.]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: If he’d meant to exonerate himself in that interview, Donald Sterling failed in every way imaginable. Any remaining question about what kind of man he was had been answered. 

There was no saving Donald from the court of public opinion. The owners were not going to vote to save him after this. His fate was sealed.

If Shelly Sterling was going to survive and hold on to the team, she was going to have to save herself. 

GLEN BUNTING: It became clear that the NBA and the commissioner, in particular, were moving so fast that she was going to be roadkill in days, that they were so far ahead and it’s like, “We’re done. This is over. She’s going to be toast just like he is,”

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Shelly’s public relations consultant Glen Bunting realized they needed to act quickly.  

GLEN BUNTING:  So, I came up with the idea of Barbara Walters. 

[ABC NEWS
BARBARA WALTERS: What is your relationship today with your husband? 

SHELLY STERLING: We’re estranged. We’ve been estranged for about a year.] 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Like her husband, Shelly Sterling never gave interviews.

GLEN BUNTING: She’s been married to this man for 58 years, married at 21. She now has to stand up for herself because she’s going to take on the league. She’s going to take on this PR nightmare, and she’s never done an interview because she’s always been behind the scenes.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: It was time for Shelly to step out of the shadows and insert herself into the narrative. Her main objective seemed to be to distance herself from the dumpster fire that was her husband, Donald Sterling, and assert her independence. She even waved a petition for divorce in front of the camera. 

[ABC NEWS

BARBARA WALTERS: Will you divorce your husband? 

SHELLY STERLING: For the last 20 years. I’ve been seeing attorneys for divorce. 

BARBARA WALTERS: Really? 

SHELLY STERLING: And on and off and on and off. And in fact I signed the petition for divorce. And. It came to almost being filed. And then my financial advisor and my attorney said to me not now. 

BARBARA WALTERS: What was the last straw that made you say after all these years, I’m out of here? 

SHELLY STERLING: This last few weeks was the worst. And I just couldn’t take anymore.] 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: It was a master stroke. Shelly came across as the loyal wife, betrayed by a cheating husband and his much younger mistress. In just one interview, she’d gone from toxic co-conspirator to sympathetic victim. And she was subjecting herself to this very public humiliation, she said, because she was fighting for her rights and her team. 

[ABC NEWS

BARBARA WALTERS: Mrs. Sterling you own 50 percent of the L.A. Clippers. There 

are reports that the NBA wants to oust you completely as a team owner. You will fight 

that decision? 

SHELLY STERLING: I will fight that decision. 

SHELLY STERLING: I think half the team is mine and I’ll fight for it.]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: It was a nice sentiment, but her lawyer Pierce O’Donnell already knew his client didn’t have much legal ground to stand on. 

PIERCE O’DONNELL: I had had a couple hours to read the NBA constitution, and bylaws. I go woah. It looks like the NBA can do whatever the hell they want here.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: The NBA didn’t want to negotiate with Donald Sterling’s wife. But it also couldn’t afford not to. Adam Silver was in a precarious position. He would need three quarters of the NBA owners to approve taking the team from Sterling. And even if he got those votes, there would likely be a long, ugly legal battle with Donald.

It would be cleaner, much cleaner, if there was a way for the league to work with her to sell the team before the owners vote ever took place. So Adam Silver listened to what Pierce had to say. 

PIERCE O’DONNELL: After some pleasantries, I take over and I say, “Look Adam, we really want to try and resolve this and not have a public blood-letting. It’s not going to be good for the NBA, and it won’t be good for Shelly. I have a proposal.” 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: That proposal: let Shelly negotiate the sale of the team. And then —  let Shelly handle Donald.

PIERCE O’DONNELL: To say he jumped at the idea would be an understatement. 

PIERCE O’DONNELL: I was on perilously thin legal ground. I say that now candidly, but the NBA didn’t … They probably knew it, but whatever. I’m a blustering Irishman, trial lawyer, so what the hell. But, I was thrilled at the outcome of that meeting. 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: On May 19th Adam Silver filed charges to terminate Donald Sterling’s ownership of the Clippers.  And officially set a vote for June 3rd. In the meantime, Pierce’s blustering worked. Between now and that vote, he and Shelly had twelve days to find a buyer.

PIERCE O’DONNELL: It was like “What the fuck. I got to sell a basketball team?”  I’d never sold a basketball ticket, much less a basketball team.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Luckily for them, there was already a lot of interest. Bids came in immediately: Oprah Winfrey faxed in her bid from the set of the movie Selma. Former Clippers player Grant Hill put in a bid. But then Shelly Sterling got a call that changed everything.

SHELLY STERLING: It was really funny … Because I got a phone call at seven in the morning.

PIERCE O’DONNELL: On a Friday morning, early, like sevenish, her cell phone rings. She groggily grabs the phone and says, “Hello.” 

SHELLY STERLING: And some man’s on the phone, and he’s telling me his name … I can’t even understand what he’s saying. 

PIERCE O’DONNELL: ” I’m Steve Ballmer, I’d like to fly down from Seattle to meet with you 

SHELLY STERLING: He says, “I want to buy the team.” I said, “Okay.” So, he says, “When can I meet you?” I says, “Well, I have a few interviews today. How about tomorrow at three o’clock?” He said, “I’ll be there.” He hung up, and I went back to sleep. 

PIERCE O’DONNELL: She wakes up later and calls a friend of hers.  And says “Do you know who Steve BOMBER is?”

SHELLY STERLING: She says, “Dummy. Steve Ballmer!” I said, “Oh, okay. Now I know who it was.”

[YOUTUBE
STEVE BALLMER: I LOVE THIS COMPANY! YEAH!]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Steve Ballmer had just retired as the CEO of Microsoft. He was worth an estimated $20 billion dollars and had recently lost a bid to buy an NBA team so he was highly motivated to close this deal.

PIERCE O’DONNELL: The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, Steve flies in.

SHELLY STERLING: On his private plane. Walks in … Promptly at 3:00… He says, “Okay, I want to buy the team. How much do you want?” I had originally told my attorney what I wanted. 1.6 to 2.0.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Billion?

SHELLY STERLING: Yeah, billion. Not dollars. So I says, “Well, this is what I’d like.”  So he says, “Well, what have you been offered so far?” I says, “Well, pretty close to it.” He says, “I’ll give you 1.9.” I says,  “I really want 2.0.” then he came back, and he says, “Okay. It’s a deal. Write up the papers.”

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Two billion was a staggering number. Ballmer beat out Oprah and the rest of the bidders by hundreds of millions of dollars. The last NBA franchise to be sold, the Milwaukee Bucks in April of 2014, had sold for $550 million — just weeks before this whole scandal blew up. Shelly Sterling got Steve Ballmer to give her more than three and a half times that.

Shelly even got all her special requests: her two courtside seats for the rest of her life,  additional seats for her friends, parking, food for her and her guests, access to the VIP Club, three rings if the Clippers win the championship during her lifetime, and the title — owner emeritus.

PIERCE O’DONNELL: Shelly’s thrilled. But I have a problem. Donald has to sign off.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: It was a condition from Steve Ballmer and the NBA — either Donald has to sign off on the sale or a court has to approve Shelly’s authority to sell the team. 

 

Pierce and Shelly would have to go to Donald and his lawyers. With less than a week to close the sale before the Board of Governors vote on June 3rd.

PIERCE O’DONNELL: Hope for the best, plan for the worst. So I had already had six lawyers in the firm working out plan B. 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: A backup plan in case Donald pulled a Donald and tried to scuttle the deal.

Pierce and his team had planned for this moment, though. There was a provision in Donald and Shelly’s family trust that could completely turn the tables. 

PIERCE O’DONNELL:  If two doctors specializing in mental health certify that he lacks the capacity, mental capacity, to function as a trustee of a multi-billion dollar empire,  that trustee is removed.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: But Pierce couldn’t proceed with Plan B unless Shelly Sterling agreed. And it was a hell of an ask. 

PIERCE O’DONNELL: I’m telling you, she was crying at night. It was very, very difficult for her.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: But ultimately, she agreed to put Plan B in motion and hope they wouldn’t have to resort to it.

[AD BREAK]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: On the grounds that she was concerned for her husband’s mental state after his disturbing interview with Anderson Cooper, Shelly made an appointment for Donald with a neurologist named Dr. Merril Platzer. Platzer was examining Donald when Bobby Samini showed up for that he thought was a job interview to be Donald’s lawyer.

BOBBY SAMINI: I walked into the house in Beverly Hills. When I got there, I went in, and I was told, “He’s in the next room meeting with somebody. He knows you’re here. He’ll be there in a minute.” After about five or 10 minutes, I went in, sat down, introduced myself. She introduced herself. Then, ultimately, we determined that, “She’s here doing this evaluation.” 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: She was there to evaluate Donald for dementia. Donald knew it, Shelly knew it, the man interviewing to become Donald’s lawyer knew it. This was done in broad daylight.

PIERCE O’DONNELL: And so after the interview, she says, “Mr. Sterling, I want to tell you my diagnosis. Based on my testing and my observation of you, you have a form of dementia known as early Alzheimer’s.” Donald said, “Thank you. I’m hungry, let’s go to lunch.” That was Donald’s reaction. 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: They got the second diagnosis that Donald had dementia from a renowned geriatric psychiatrist at UCLA, Dr. James Spar, three days after Platzer’s diagnosis. They had the two diagnoses in their back pockets as they negotiated the sale with Steve Ballmer. Like Pierce said, Plan B.

When they got the sale agreement with Steve Ballmer figured out, they gave Donald the chance to do this the easy way — to sign off on the sale Shelly had negotiated.

PIERCE O’DONNELL: We get him on the phone and Donald launches into a tirade  “I can get more money for the team. What the fuck.” There were a lot of “fuck you’s.” And, “I’m not selling this team.” 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: It was time to implement Plan B. 

Pierce O’Donnell had a letter ready to send to Donald’s lead attorney, Max Blecher — the same lawyer who had saved Donald from getting kicked out of the NBA back in 1984.

PIERCE O’DONNELL: “Dear Max, please find enclosed the reports of Dr. Platzer and Dr. Spar, both of who have concluded that Donald lacks the capacity. Pursuant to section 3.9, whatever it is, of the Sterling family trust amended last December. Donald is hereby removed.”

RAMONA SHELBURNE: No one on Donald’s team saw this coming. In his prime, Max Blecher had been a legal lion. But he was in his 80s now. Bobby Samini had barely been hired and was getting caught up to speed on the particulars of the case.

BOBBY SAMINI: The funnier part was, that I don’t really know anything about sports. 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: And it was already too late to do much about it. 

They tried, in vain, to find a big prestige law firm to partner with. But no one wanted to touch Donald Sterling, no one wanted to stake their reputation as the firm that defended that old racist.

BOBBY SAMINI: Donald looked to me and said “The cavalry is not coming.”

RAMONA SHELBURNE: It had been 30 years since Donald and Max Blecher had teamed up to take on the NBA — the first time the league tried to revoke his ownership after he moved the Clippers to LA without permission. But the world had changed since then. Even if Donald himself had not. 

And now here he was, the deal guy who always got the best deal, getting outmaneuvered at every turn — by his own wife!

Pierce and Shelly maintained that with two experts providing a diagnosis of dementia, Shelly was empowered to remove Donald from the trust. Ownership of the Clippers would then lay in Shelly’s hands. She alone had the authority to sell the team. And she exercised that authority.

SHELLY STERLING: So we had no alternative. I gave my word to Steve, I have to go through with it. I don’t want them to dismantle the team, and the players didn’t want to play. So I signed it, I gave them my word, and as far as I knew it was done. I mean, that was very hard for me to do.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: I remember learning that this is how Shelly had sold the team. There were reports that there was an agreement to sell the team for $2 billion but no details. Something was up. So I started asking all the bid groups what was going on. They told me they’d been assured Shelly had the authority to sell the team without Donald’s consent. That he’d been found mentally incompetent and removed from the trust. WHAAAT?! My jaw dropped. 

I remember sitting in my car downstairs from our TV studio in Los Angeles and calling the head of the news desk, David Kraft. My hands were shaking as I typed out the story and read it back to him. I told him we now had 3 sources on this. That I was confident it was accurate. That no one, not even Shelly’s side, was denying it. But I still couldn’t believe it. After 60 years of marriage, after a lifetime of putting up with her husband’s affairs and indiscretions, Shelly Sterling was selling the team out from under him in the most painful, public way by getting him declared mentally incompetent? It was such a power move. So cold-blooded. I couldn’t believe this little old lady with the Chanel bag had it in her to do it.

But her old friend Marlene Selsman knew she did

 

MARLENE SELSMAN: Once he’s declared incompetent and she’s in charge, then she’s in charge. That was very smart on her part. That was so very smart. 

SHELLY STERLING: I was going against my husband who wouldn’t talk to me, and my kids didn’t like too much what I was doing, and I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing.  If I thought there was the least amount of chance that we could own it, I would have stuck with it, but I didn’t see any chance.

 

MARLENE SELSMAN: The team was going to be sold at auction and they would get a piece of it or something, but Shelly’s too smart. She goes for that last nickel in the asphalt. Hahaha.

 

[TAPE

ANSWER MACHINE:  Monday 3:15 p.m. from an outside caller.

DONALD STERLING: I’m leaving you my name Donald Sterling. And I’m going to have you lose your license how dare you get my medical records for my head to a law firm who hired you they hired you for the purpose of finding me incompetent. I’m not incompetent you’re fucking incompetent you stupid fucking doctor. How dare you.]

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Donald Sterling was livid. He called Dr. Platzer and Dr. Spar.

 

[TAPE

DONALD STERLING: Why would you give my personal mental records to a lawyer for the purpose of suing me? I’m just so excited. I’m so angry. I’m so…[sighs]  I’m going to call UCLA now and I’m going to get you fired from UCLA because you’re nothing but a tramp. Have your insurance company call me my name is Donald Sterling in case you forgot. If you look at your bill you’ll see that your material was addressed to a lawyer so obviously he sent me to you and you agreed to the conspiracy to do this. Thank you very much doctor.]

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Donald directed his lawyers to sue the NBA for $1 billion in damages. Then he directed them to revoke the trust, the one that Shelly had already removed him from. But it was too late. Donald finally realized his back was against the wall. Shelly had sold the team and indemnified the NBA against any lawsuit he brought against the league. In other words, even if Donald prevailed in his $1 billion lawsuit against the NBA, the Sterling family trust would pay the damages. Which meant Donald was effectively suing himself. 

 

There was only one place for him to fight and one person left to fight with — Shelly. And within six weeks, right after the July 4th weekend, they all ended up where everything with Donald and Shelly ends up in court.

PIERCE O’DONNELL: So we go to trial. It’s a shit show. It’s the only way to say it. 

PIERCE O’DONNELL: I’m not exaggerating, there’s 40 print reporters, radio people, television people, and we’re walking in and they’re literally surrounding us. And some of the cameramen are backing up, and it was like dominoes, or bowling pins. One of them tripped on a trashcan and knocked about three of them down.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: I was one of those reporters outside the courthouse in Downtown Los Angeles. The place has seen its share of big trials over the years — OJ Simpson, Michael Jackson’s Doctor, Phil Spector. This was right up there in terms of fanfare. 

Donald’s lawyers tried to argue that he wasn’t mentally incapacitated. Shelly’s lawyers said that was irrelevant, because they had followed the trust and found two doctors who said that he was.

But the whole thing came down to a random piece of probate code.

 

ADAM STREISAND:  Probate Code section 13 10 B. 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Adam Streisand was Steve Ballmer’s lawyer.

 

ADAM STREISAND: Barely anybody even knows. There are like no cases. It basically says the probate judge has the power to authorize the trustee to take actions to avoid imminent harm and loss to the trust even if they appeal. Shelly’s lawyer is you know I’ve never heard of 13 10 B but this sounds great. 

 

PIERCE O’DONNELL: He’s not the only person who found that provision, but that’s okay. Remember this, success has many parents and failure is an orphan. 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: This is about as exciting as probate court is ever going to get. All of us reporters in the courtroom were live tweeting the play-by-play. 

PIERCE O’DONNELL: I called Donald first. And Bert stands up. 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Pierce chose Bert Fields — a legendary entertainment lawyer with a reputation for making the most powerful men in Hollywood squirm — to question an angry and defiant Donald.

PIERCE O’DONNELL: 10 minutes later Donald was crying. Absolutely crying.

PIERCE O’DONNELL: Then Donald starts attacking Bert Fields. “What a stupid question, a first year law student would ask a question better than that!” And of course, I’m sitting there loving it, because this guy’s unraveling in front of the judge, making it clearer and clearer that the determination of the two Doctor’s was correct. It only took him about 10 minutes.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: At one point, as Shelly was leaving the stand, Donald said to her in open court, “Get away from me, you pig.” 

PIERCE O’DONNELL: And the courtroom is stunned. Judge [Levanas] says, “I want the record to reflect, that when Mrs. Sterling walked over to her husband after she left the stand, he called her a pig.” Now that was the news of the day. It was very sad, okay, because Donald just wasn’t with it, he was confused, he was angered. He came to court in sweat pajamas, and socks with bedroom slippers on, and he just never looked good.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Towards the end of the trial, the lawyers decided Steve Ballmer and Donald Sterling should meet. So Donald’s lawyer Bobby Samini helped to arrange a meeting, a sort of last ditch effort to help Donald accept the inevitable.

BOBBY SAMINI: Sterling looks to him and he’s like, “Hey, you’re in the computer business, right?” And Ballmer says, “Yeah, I mean, kind of.” He’s like, “What’s the name of your company again?” And Ballmer chuckles and he goes, “Microsoft.” And Sterling says “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know those guys.”

BOBBY SAMINI: And I tell you, I watched this meeting and I heard some of the funniest things I’d ever heard. So one point after the first hour, Donald tells Steve Ballmer, like “I’m just am curious about one thing.” Ballmer’s like, “Of course, what is the question?” He looks to him and he goes, “You really have $2 billion?” Of course, we all started cracking up, right? And Ballmer says, “Yes” He’s like, “Do you have $2 billion in cash  He goes, I have the money. Don’t worry. I can call the bankers and they can verify the funds.” Then, Sterling starts laughing and he looks at me, he goes, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” Ballmer looks at him, he goes, “What do you mean?” He goes, “Why would anybody have 2 billion in cash? Like, you should invest the money or pay off your debt, right? You’d be stupid to have that kind of cash.”

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Donald Sterling still felt like he knew it all. But Steve Ballmer reflected the future of the NBA — tech money. And Sterling was a dinosaur with outdated values.

BOBBY SAMINI: It was like sitting there and watching the change of the guard, right, the old guard and the new guard. 

 

[ESPN

STUART SCOTT: This just in a judge has ruled against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and cleared the way for the two billion dollar sale of the team to ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.] 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: In the end, Shelly won. She sold the Clippers to Steve Ballmer, for a record $2 billion. What had long been regarded as the laughing stock of the NBA sold for more money than any team ever had. 

 

[CNN

REPORTER: Let’s get Shelly up here!

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Shelly Sterling took questions from reporters on the steps of the courthouse after the judge gave his ruling.

 

[CNN

SHELLY STERLING: I want to thank everybody who has helped me. My attorney’s they were fabulous. And, this is going to be a good thing for the city, for the league, for my family, for all of us. And I just want to thank you all.]

PIERCE O’DONNELL: She opened up like a flower, like a flower that opens only once a year. 

 

[CNN

SHELLY STERLING:  All I want to do now is get some sleep. I haven’t slept in weeks. 

REPORTER: You mean you don’t like going to court?

SHELLY STERLING: Oh, I love it!! 

PIERCE O’DONNELL: We want to go forward understanding that it was one woman, who stood up against her husband, who had the courage to go to court and she prevailed.] 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: At the time, I was right there with Pierce. I thought Shelly had really broken with Donald. For good.

 

But Shelly felt she still had unfinished business. Not with Donald — with V. 

 

The mistress who wanted too much, who took Donald’s generosity for granted, who broke the rules of the mistress code. 

 

SHELLY STERLING: I mean, he paid her life. He gave her cars, put them in her name . Why would somebody try to ruin a person who’s so good to you? 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: It’s not that different from the way Donald saw his players.

[TMZ
DONALD STERLING: I support them, and give them food and clothes and cars and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Donald and Shelly expected a certain loyalty and gratitude from those who somehow benefitted from their wealth. 

 

And when she released that tape, V. didn’t just break the rules of the mistress code, she took a match to the whole thing. If you weren’t supposed to flaunt the affair in front of the wife, you most definitely were not supposed to flaunt it in front of the whole world. Make it the top story on the evening news. 

 

But it thrust V. into the public eye. And she loved the attention. 

 

[DATE FAILS PODCAST 

V. STIVIANO: Nobody wanted to go to the Clippers. No one even knew the Clippers existed until I came into the franchise. 

KATE QUIGLEY: She’s like they owe me everything. 

STEPHEN KRAMER GLICKMAN: V. Stiviano bringing the heat!

V. STIVIANO: And it’s not only that it was prior to bringing the heat in the scandal. It’s more like let’s change it up, let’s switch it up, and let’s do this, let’s bring Chris Paul. Let’s bring Blake. 

KATE QUIGLEY:  Love it. Blake Griffin. I love Blake. 

V. STIVIANO: Let’s start spending money. Let’s start acting like we actually do care. Let’s give L.A. a reason to look forward to basketball again. And look at us now.

STEPHEN KRAMER GLICKMAN: YEAH!]

MAC NEHORAY: I think she liked to be in the public eye, a lot. And as you could see by the visors she was wearing and all the shenanigans that would happen, it was because she liked to be in the public eye. And I guess most people do.

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Mac Nehoray was V.’s lawyer through all of this

MAC NEHORAY: For her, it was just like, it was like an aphrodisiac. She was just so happy and I told her “V., in this country it only lasts 15 minutes. Not more than that. The media will find somebody else, more exotic than you in a few months.” But she says I can ride it for a few months.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: V. got her 15 minutes of fame — and not much more. The general public was pretty quick to forget about her. But not Shelly. 

 

[TAPE

V. STIVIANO: I want Shelly to know that you bought me a house.

DONALD STERLING: No! 

V. STIVIANO: Why not? 

DONALD STERLING: Why don’t you? Because she’s going to be hassling you all the time.]

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Shelly had won her lawsuit against Donald, she’d come out $2 billion ahead. But she pressed forward with her lawsuit against V., for all those gifts Donald had given her. She was going to get her revenge on the woman who had so disrupted their lives.

 

And thanks to V., she also had a whole bunch of tapes.

 

[TAPE

V. STIVIANO: You think I can hide the house? 

DONALD STERLING:  How do we hide it? 

V. STIVIANO: We should have put it under Lucy’s name. She doesn’t owe anyone anything no one knows who Lucy is. But It’s OK. 

DONALD STERLING:  Has the escrow closed? 

V. STIVIANO: Yes, it’s been recorded.

DONALD STERLING: Today? 

V. STIVIANO: Uh huh. 

V. STIVIANO: I can always change title, I can always change title whenever. 

DONALD STERLING: It’s not easy to change title, because people are going to ask how did you first buy it.]

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Those tapes provided proof that Donald and V. had hid the gifts from Shelly. In April 2015, a judge ordered V. Stiviano return 2.6 million dollars worth of gifts to Shelly. Shelly won, again. 

 

PIERCE O’DONNELL: Shelly Sterling, as proud as she is of what she did for the Clippers, is much prouder about what she did in the Stiviano case. 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: And, still, even that was not enough. Shelly could not — and would not — let it go.

 

[TMZ
V. STIVIANO: And you’re in love with me.
V. STIVIANO: And you’re in love with me.]

Shelly: I hear it over, and over, and over, all the time.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Shelly hears it over and over because she STILL listens to those tapes.

 

[TMZ

DONALD STERLING: Bring him here, feed him, f* him, I don’t care!

DONALD STERLING: There’s nothing wrong with minorities. They’re fabulous. Fabulous!

DONALD STERLING: Why are you saying these things? To upset me?]

SHELLY STERLING: I listen to them all the time.

 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Shelly Sterling is in her mid-80s now. She still drives herself from Malibu into town several times a week. Town, of course, meaning Beverly Hills. And when she gets into her Mercedes Benz station wagon, she still sometimes puts those tapes on.

 

[TAPE

V. STIVIANO: I think it’s important that you and I go in front of the world. You care about me. You love me. You care about me. I’m your little girl. I’m your little princess the way you used to tell me that I was.]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Why would you do that?

SHELLY STERLING: I don’t know. Maybe punishing myself.

 

[TAPE

DONALD STERLING: I want to give you everything. Do you understand that? I would rather give you the cash, but that’s not going to make you happy. That’s why I have to buy that car because you’re stubborn and you’re pushy and I love you so much. 

V. STIVIANO: Not only do I want that car, I want a new camera]

RAMONA SHELBURNE: When you listen to them, what do you hear?
SHELLY STERLING: I hear this horrible person who had nothing going in her life, but the wonderful things that my husband had done for her. Just slap him in the face.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: I’m sure it still stings her the way V. Stiviano caused them so much trouble — you can hear in her voice that it does. But I also suspect when she listens to those tapes, she’s really trying to understand the other voice — her husband’s. 

SHELLY STERLING: I don’t know why he did it. But he did it.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: All these years, all these battles. All these affairs. V. wasn’t the first. It’s doubtful she’ll be the last. And it’s not clear she’s even gone from Donald’s life. Shelly may be interested in why V. could have treated Donald that way, but I’d bet Shelly is far more curious about why Donald treats her the way he does.

SHELLY STERLING: Well, he denies everything. You know, as a man denies, so, you know? Did I want to split up my life, or did, I mean, did Hilary Clinton leave Bill after this big scandal? Sometimes you just take it and just overlook it.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: I reached out to Donald Sterling but he wouldn’t do an interview. He hasn’t done any in-depth interviews since that Anderson Cooper sit down 5 years ago. Both he and Shelly seem nervous about what he might say.

 

SHELLY STERLING: He says I don’t want to be interviewed by anybody ever, ever, ever. You know, we’re all trying to get over it and just go on from here, that’s all.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Five years ago, I really believed Shelly when she said she’d broken from Donald. I thought for sure everything had changed for them. I mean, how couldn’t it have? His mistress had outed him for a racist, she’d had him declared mentally incompetent and sold the team out from under him, he’d called her a pig in court. What kind of marriage survives all that? 

 

A year later I went out to interview her at their house in Malibu for a follow up piece. We did the interview in her kitchen. On the table were some flowers. At the end I asked her who they were from. And she said Donald sent them for Mother’s Day. 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: Where are you and Donald now?

SHELLY STERLING:  We’re together. We were separated for a while, and my life went on, his life went on. I’m a very self-sufficient person, so I don’t depend on a person to make me happy. I make my own happiness. 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: So how did Donald get you back?
SHELLY STERLING: We were always pretty much friends after all this happened, and then we just, you know.

 

MARLENE SELSMAN: Over 60 years they’ve become almost everything to each other. He loves Shelly. He’ll never want to separate from her. He really does love her.

 

PIERCE O’DONNELL: Who takes him to the Doctor’s appointment? Who makes sure he has his medication? Who makes sure the maid shows up at his house? Who tries to protect him from countless mistresses, and con men? It’s Shelly. 

 

MARLENE SELSMAN: He could not live without her. 

 

SHELLY STERLING: I know he loves me. And he’ll never divorce me.

 

MARLENE SELSMAN: It’s like two people with their backs to each other, holding each other up. If one lets go, the other one falls down. They hold each other up.

 

PIERCE O’DONNELL: Shelly Sterling loves Donald, and I’ve always said on his deathbed, there will be one person for sure next to him, holding his hand. And it will be Shelly. She loves the guy. 

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: If you look at Shelly and Donald’s lives now, not much has changed. They sort of settled back into the uneasy balance they’d existed in for all those years before V. Stiviano came along.

 

Shelly still goes to Clippers games, the only difference is Donald can’t.

 

SHELLY STERLING: And I love the game and I enjoy them. And I sit there and I scream and I yell just like I did before, “Go to the hoop.”

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: And they’re a hell of a lot richer.

SHELLY STERLING: He’s happy about selling the team now.
RAMONA SHELBURNE: Huh.
SHELLY STERLING: Yes. He tells a lot of people. He says, “You know, I had to sell the team, but I feel like I was I fell off a tree and I landed on a pile of gold.” 

 

BLAKE GRIFFIN: At the end of the day they got two billion dollars, so is it a win? Is it a loss? I don’t know, but we don’t have to deal with that anymore and that’s not a part of our league, so for us, yeah. The whole saying rings true: you’re so poor, all you have is your money.

 

MARC SPEARS: I mean, I don’t feel sorry for Donald Sterling. Some people may say he got the last laugh. But all the money in the world ain’t going to change his reputation. His reputation is destroyed. We know who he is. He’s made his bed, and you can’t take that money with you, and hopefully that was a lesson to be learned that racism and racist mentality will not be tolerated.

 

RAMONA SHELBURNE: It’s always a little uncomfortable bringing up Donald Sterling’s name to anyone with the Clippers these days. They’ve moved on and tried to forget he ever existed and had power over them. 

 

If they could, they’d write him completely out of their history. 

 

The team has changed so much under Steve Ballmer. The league has changed so much. Hell, the whole world has changed so much. It’s hard to remember there was ever a time when an owner could heckle his players from his courtside seats or ogle them in the locker room.

 

Things have changed. Even the term owner has gone out of fashion. Adam Silver now calls them “governors.”

 

The Donald Sterling tape forced a reckoning. The fault line gave, the earth shook and shifted. But earthquakes and reckonings never fix everything, they only release some of the pressure and it’s always only a matter of time until there’s another.

 

DOC RIVERS: Another reckoning. We’re going to have another one, and another one, and we’re going to keep getting better, but this was important. This was a group of guys that stood up to, a league that stood up against something, a commissioner that stood up, coach stood up, players stood up. At the end of the day, it was a beautiful moment for our league.

 

CREDITS

 

SHELLY STERLING: Did you see that the movie about the wife? The movie The Wife.
RAMONA SHELBURNE: No, I didn’t see it.
SHELLY STERLING: Oh, you must see it.
RAMONA SHELBURNE: Okay.
PRODUCER: Guy wins the Pulitzer Prize. He’s supposed to be a great writer, novelist, and the wife’s…
SHELLY STERLING: She was the ghostwriter.
PRODUCER: She writes it all.
SHELLY STERLING: And here her husband took care of the kids, and she wrote all day long. And he got the Pulitzer Prize.
Ramona: Really?
SHELLY STERLING:And she’s sitting there while he’s being honored, and she’s getting madder and madder and madder because that belongs to her. She did all the writing.
RAMONA SHELBURNE:  Wow.
SHELLY STERLING: She was in the shadows as the wife and taking care of him, making sure his tie was straight.
Ramona: Is that you?
SHELLY STERLING: No. It’s not me. haha.

 

Credits

This season of 30 for 30 Podcasts was produced in association with The Undefeated.

Reported & hosted by Ramona Shelburne

Executive Producer: Julia Lowrie Henderson

Story Editors: Erin Leyden, Jody Avirgan, and Raina Kelley

Producers: Meradith Hoddinott, Ryan Kailath, Stephen Hoffman, and Lauren Gaffney

Archival Producer: Jason Heilig

Associate Producer: Vin D’Anton 

Production Assistants: Derwin Graham, Eve Wulf, and Jefferson Yen

Production Managers: Cath Sankey and Jennifer Thorpe

Original Music by Hannis Brown

Mix Engineering by Hannis Brown and David Herman

Production assistance from Adam Braunstein at ESPN LA radio

The 30 for 30 Podcasts team also includes Mitra Kaboli, Andrew Mambo, Ryan Nantell

Executive Producers for ESPN: Connor Schell, Rob King, Libby Geist & Kevin Merida

Director of Development: Adam Neuhaus

ESPN Audio: Traug Keller, Tom Ricks, Megan Judge, Pete Gianesini, Ryan Granner

This season was produced in collaboration with Western Sound:

Executive Producer: Ben Adair

The Western Sound team also includes: Cameron Kell and Stepfanie Aguilar

Fact checking: Natalie Meade. Legal research: Hayley Fox.

Counsel for Creators provided legal counsel.

Special thanks to Stacey Pressman, Mario Ruiz, Chris Morales, and ESPN LA radio

JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE! Courtesy of 12:05 AM Productions, LLC and Jimmy Kimmel Live!