The Eastern and Western Conference finals are underway in the NBA, and the Miami Heat are just one win away from heading to the league finals for the third straight time. Meanwhile, the league has announced its agreement with Shelly Sterling to sell the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. NPR's Tom Goldman talks to host Robert Siegel about the latest NBA news
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel. The National Basketball Association's conference finals are underway. The Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs are each just one win away from a rematch of last year's championship series. Miami is playing tonight against the Indiana Pacers. Off the court, a different drama is unfolding. There is word that the Los Angeles Clippers would be sold for $2 billion to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. The Clippers owner, of course, is Donald Sterling who has been banned by the league for life after he was recorded making racist remarks. Well, here to help sort all this out and to talk a little basketball is NPR's Tom Goldman. Hi, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.
SIEGEL: Let's talk about the $2 billion winning bid first. Once you get past that headline, there are lots of caveats to this reported agreement between Shelly Sterling, Donald Sterling's wife, and Steve Ballmer. What's up?
GOLDMAN: Yeah. First that headline, Robert - $2 billion? I mean, that quadruples the highest sales price for a team up to now. It's incredible. But what about the man at the center of the scandal, Clippers principal owner Donald Sterling? What will he do? Will he fight the sale, whether it's the voluntary sale by his wife, or the forced sale by the NBA, which until we hear differently from the league is still on the table? You know, will he fight these with all his might, as his attorney this week said he'll do? And will he challenge the way his wife unilaterally reached this agreement with Steve Ballmer, apparently without Donald Sterling's approval?
Now, according to someone I talked to today - a person who knows about the sale negotiations but who's not authorized to speak publicly about it - that person said Mrs. Sterling and Ballmer followed the lead of the Sterling Family Trust, which owns the team. And the Trust says there are conditions under which Mrs. Sterling could act as the sole trustee, and those conditions, contained in a confidential document, reportedly say that Mr. Sterling was not capable of making the sales decision.
SIEGEL: Now, the NBA is still set to vote on the forced sale of the team on Tuesday. Talk about the options the league has and the options for Donald Sterling.
GOLDMAN: Well, you know, the league has released a statement today saying that Commissioner Adam Silver has consistently said the preferred outcome to the Clippers proceeding would be a voluntary sale of the team. They're still waiting for the documents from Mrs. Sterling. In the meantime this June 3 special meeting of the NBA Board of Governors is still on. Now, that meeting has always been about taking a vote by owners to boot Sterling and his wife from the league, taking away ownership. The NBA could respond to Shelly Sterling and Steve Ballmer's plan by postponing the meeting and moving ahead with the approval of the deal, which would take 30 days or more, probably.
SIEGEL: Now, there is still some basketball to talk about...
SIEGEL: ...The game itself. Miami, the Heat, could clinch a championship spot tonight, a spot in the finals.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, you know, Robert, sports predictions are always chancy, but here's one you can put money on. Tonight, in Miami, with the Heat needing one win to get to their fourth straight NBA finals - and they'd be only the third team to do that. And with images of a rotten game - five in his head, compounded by the guy guarding him, Indiana's Lance Stephenson blowing in his ear to annoy him - the prediction, Robert, is that Lebron James will turn into Godzilla and lay waste to the basketball court and everyone in a Pacers uniform on it. I believe the Heat will win.
SIEGEL: And for the other slot in the final series, the San Antonio Spurs play the Oklahoma City Thunder tomorrow.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, and what a game last night, too. I mean, one of the most important games in the Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich era since 1999 when they've been the closest thing to a sports dynasty we've seen in this country. You know, after two straight thumpings in Oklahoma City to a Thunder team that was better in every aspect - San Antonio just did the right things. Gregg Popovich made tweaks to the lineup and the Spurs played with the smarts and the heart that Popovich said they would need to, to beat a very athletic and very good Oklahoma City team. This series still could go seven games, but the Spurs seem to be in the driver's seat right now.
SIEGEL: OK, thanks, Tom.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.