Steve Ballmer is poised to buy the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion, US media reported Thursday, even as a lawyer for Donald Sterling said the embattled owner might fight a sale.
The Los Angeles Times and ESPN cited unnamed sources as saying the mammoth bid by former Microsoft chief executive Ballmer had been accepted over at least two others.
Shelly Sterling was authorized by her husband to negotiate a sale of the team last week, but attorney Maxwell Blecher told CNN that Donald Sterling still maintained that the club could not be sold without his approval.
That approval won't be forthcoming, Blecher said, "unless the NBA does something about the illegal charges they have filed against him and so far we've heard nothing to indicate that will occur."
Sterling wants to hear from the league ahead of a scheduled hearing before the board of governors Tuesday, when his fellow 29 owners are due to vote on whether to terminate his ownership.
"The league on Tuesday has a guillotine over Mr Sterling's head," Blecher said. "They will confiscate his team illegally, and if they don't want a lawsuit challenging that conduct, they need to let us know before Tuesday."
Blecher insisted the league has no grounds to act against Sterling because the racist remarks for which he has been sanctioned came in a private conversation that was recorded without his permission, a crime in California.
"Under California law, that recording cannot be used for any purpose in any proceeding except for impeachment," Blecher said.
The comments were posted on gossip website TMZ in April, sparking a firestorm that prompted the NBA to charge Sterling with conduct detrimental to the league.
A $2 billion sale would mark a massive financial return for Sterling on a club he purchased in 1981 for $12 million.
But Blecher said a sale pushed through quickly at the league's insistence would carry a heavier tax burden for the seller.
- Draconian remedies -
In addition, he indicated Sterling wouldn't be willing to meekly accept the league's condemnation.
"He's not consenting to paying a $2.5 million fine or to be banished from the stadium for the rest of his life," Blecher said.
"These are draconian remedies that exceed anything that anyone has ever done in any professional sport.
"And what is the basis of it? An illegal recording that cannot be used."
Blecher said Sterling will attend Tuesday's board meeting since league rules say he would surrender his rights if he fails to appear.
Sterling and his legal advisers have declined to take any legal action against the NBA so far because he "did not want to interfere with Mrs Sterling's effort to try to arrange a sale of the team," the lawyer added.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Ballmer beat out at least two other bidders. A group including former NBA player Grant Hill had offered $1.2 billion and a group led by entertainment mogul David Geffen bid $1.6 billion, the newspaper said.
The previous highest price ever paid for an NBA team was $550 million paid for the Milwaukee Bucks in April.
The most paid for a North American professional sports franchise was the $2.1 billion paid for baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 by a group led by NBA great Magic Johnson.
Even if Sterling decides to go along with a sale -- to Ballmer or another bidder -- any deal must be approved by three quarters of the NBA's other owners.