By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Los Angeles Clippers co-owner Donald Sterling on Tuesday sparred with his estranged wife’s attorney at a trial over the $2 billion sale of the NBA franchise, interrupting and shouting during testimony and saying he wants to keep the team for financial reasons.
The 80-year-old real estate billionaire, who has been deemed by physicians to have Alzheimer’s disease and is unable to handle business affairs, said he was blocking the sale brokered by his wife to former Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer because he believed the team’s value could be more than double.
“I think we can get somewhere between $2.5 to $5 billion for that team,” Sterling said, adding that rising television and media rights made the team more valuable to keep.
It is the first time Sterling has spoken publicly since a televised interview in May shortly after he was banned from the NBA for life for taped racist remarks that were made public.
Sterling had difficulty recalling dates and remembering past statements a day after he failed to appear when called to take the stand. He fought with celebrity attorney Bert Fields, repeatedly asking the lawyer his name.
An agitated Sterling, who often disputed Fields’s questions, snapped at the lawyer: “Tell me if that’s relevant, if you’re not trying to be a smart ass.”
“I think it showed you what this man is really like,” Fields said outside court. “It showed you the enormous hypocrisy of this guy, who will spout all these things about how he loves his wife, but he’s suing her.”
Shelly Sterling, 79, has asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas to confirm her as the sole trustee of the family trust that owns the Clippers and to back the NBA-record deal.
‘WIFE CAN’T LEARN ANYTHING’
At issue is whether Shelly Sterling properly removed her husband as trustee after he was deemed by physicians to have early Alzheimer’s disease and unable to handle business affairs.
Sterling, who cried at one point speaking about his wife, repeatedly said he trusted her but that she lacked the ability to run his holdings, including the Clippers.
“It’s ludicrous to think she could run a corporation that has a billion dollars of liabilities with different banks,” he testified.
“My wife can’t learn anything,” Sterling added. “She’s beautiful and wonderful and intelligent, but she’s never had the experience that I have.”
Sterling’s attorneys say he was misled by his wife into submitting to medical examinations that removed him from control of the Clippers.
Sterling’s attorney, Bobby Samini, said outside court that this was usual behavior for his client.
“He has a lot to say; he’s got a lot on his chest,” Samini said. “I think he wanted to use this opportunity to try and get some of it out.”
The NBA has said it could seize the Clippers and put the franchise up for auction if the deal is not approved by Sept. 15.
(Editing by Mary Milliken, Lisa Shumaker and Ken Wills)