LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Donald Sterling, challenging the sale of his Los Angeles Clippers, gave testy, bombastic testimony Tuesday, contending he’s mentally sound, sparring with his wife’s lawyer and repeatedly drawing laughter from spectators.
“Tell me what you want to accuse me of. … Stand up and be a man,” he told attorney Bert Fields during a 90-minute afternoon appearance.
The 80-year-old billionaire also called doctors who’ve declared he has Alzheimer’s disease “hired guns,” pleaded a faulty memory about some of his most controversial remarks and declared he could top the $2 billion offer for the Clippers by $10 billion by selling TV rights to Fox and winning an antitrust suit he’s filed against the NBA.
“What do you think, I’m doing this for ego?” he asked Fields.
“Yes,” the attorney replied.
“Well, you’re wrong, like you’re wrong with all your questions,” Sterling said.
He also repeatedly told the soft-voiced Fields that he couldn’t hear him, but at one point also said he was a good lawyer.
As Sterling made continued outbursts, Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas tried futilely to take control of the situation, at one point telling him: “Go back to answering questions rather than making somewhat entertaining comments.”
After court, Fields said those who watched Sterling could easily draw their own conclusions on his competence.
“Is this a guy you’d employ to sell hamburgers?” Fields said.
The NBA has moved to oust Sterling from team ownership because of racist remarks he made to a girlfriend.
His lawyers are challenging the authority of Shelly Sterling under a family trust to unilaterally cut a deal for the team with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
In order to be able to make the deal herself, Shelly Sterling had two doctors examine her husband and they declared him mentally incapacitated and unable to act as an administrator of The Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers.
Sterling angrily denied that on the witness stand.
“When I went to the Cleveland Clinic, they told me I was razor-sharp. I have five corporations and I run them every day,” he said.
Sterling acknowledged that he had offered to allow his wife to negotiate the sale at one point, but that was when he believed she would retain an interest in the team.
“I wanted to keep the team. I didn’t want to sell it,” he said.
Despite his challenge, Sterling repeatedly defended his wife and during a break before giving testimony, he pulled her down to his chair for a kiss. She wiped away a tear.
“I trust her today,” Sterling said on the stand. “The reason we’re here is because she’s afraid of this big NBA that’s trying to take everything away.”
At times, he sniffled and appeared to wipe away a tear.
A neurologist hired by his wife testified Monday that she believed he has Alzheimer’s disease and a psychiatrist also hired by Shelly Sterling testified Tuesday that he drew the same conclusion after examining Sterling in May.
Dr. James Sparr said Sterling was friendly, relaxed and co-operative until a final question challenged his abilities.
A frustrated Sterling then said, “‘I have to go,’ and walked out of the room,” Sparr said.
Sparr’s report concluded that Sterling showed early signs of the debilitating mental condition and concluded that “he is substantially unable to manage his finances and resist fraud and malfeasance and is no longer competent to act as a trustee of his trust.”
NBA owners are scheduled to vote on the Ballmer deal on July 15. It’s also the day that Ballmer’s offer is set to expire — and there is no deal without the judge’s approval of the sale.
If the sale isn’t completed by Sept. 15, the league said it could seize the team and put it up for auction.