Donald Sterling voluntarily underwent an extensive neurological exam this month, a person tells USA TODAY Sports.
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was diagnosed with symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease this month, a finding that helped empower his wife Shelly to sell the team for $2 billion without his approval, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports.
The person said Donald Sterling was diagnosed with the symptoms after he voluntarily underwent an extensive neurological exam earlier this month.
Under terms of the Sterling Family Trust, which owns the team, Shelly Sterling became the trust's sole trustee because Donald Sterling was deemed mentally unfit to make decisions for the trust, said the person, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the situation.
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The terms related to the mental capacity of the trustees did not require court approval, though Donald Sterling can appeal the finding to a California court if he chooses, the person said. Shelly and Donald Sterling are joint owners in the trust, each with a 50-percent stake.
It's possible Donald Sterling did not tell his attorney about the diagnosis, the person said.
When asked by USA TODAY Sports Friday if he disputed that Shelly Sterling was made sole trustee because of her husband's mental state, Sterling attorney Max Blecher said, "No court has made an adjudication of (Donald Sterling's) mental capacity."
Even if Sterling is in the early stages of dementia, he would have grounds to challenge the finding that he is mentally incapacitated and potentially block the sale of the Clippers, Linda Wasserman, an adjunct law professor at the University of Michigan, told USA TODAY Sports.
She said the language in a trust setting the threshold for mental incapacity is often open to interpretation.
"You can be in the early stages of dementia and still be competent under a trust agreement, so it's a question of degree as well,'' she said. "He could have his own separate physicians examine him and determine that he is not incompetent and then it would end up in court."
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Alzheimer's is a degenerative disease, so mental capacity would depend if the person was in the early stages or middle stages, said Beth Kallmyer, vice president of constituent services for the Alzheimer's Association. It is incurable, worsens as it progresses over a period of years, and leads to death.
"In the middle stages, people need a lot of assistance to do everyday tasks," Kallmyer told USA TODAY Sports. "But people in the early stages are still competent to do some things. We have people in the early stages that serve on our board of directors and they're competent and able to do a good job. ... Unless you're somebody's doctor, you wouldn't know what they could understand or tolerate.''
Sterling filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver, alleging breach of contract and a violation of his constitutional rights after the league banned him last month for making racially charged comments in a privately recorded conversation with his female companion.
The suit seeks more than $1 billion in damages, the elimination of his ban and $2.5 million fine, and the termination of the NBA's plan to terminate his family's ownership of the team.
But the NBA says it no longer needs to rule on Sterling's ownership. The league announced Friday that it had accepted a binding proposal in which Sterling's wife agreed to sell the Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, pending approval by the NBA's Board of Governors.
"The NBA will withdraw its pending charge to terminate the Sterlings' ownership of the team," the NBA said in a statement. "Because of the binding agreement to sell the team, the NBA termination hearing that had been scheduled for June 3 in New York City has now been cancelled. Mrs. Sterling and the Trust also agreed not to sue the NBA and to indemnify the NBA against lawsuits from others, including from Donald Sterling."
That means the Sterling Family Trust might have to cover the NBA's expenses if Donald Sterling sues the league, as he did Friday.
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Sterling's fight with the NBA began on April 29,, when Silver said he would urge NBA owners to terminate Sterling's ownership of the Clippers after Donald Sterling was heard in an audio recording making racially charged remarks about African-Americans. His female companion, V. Stiviano, recorded the private conversation in September, but Sterling said it was without his consent. The recording was leaked to the gossip site TMZ months later, creating a furor among players, sponsors and fans.
While acknowledging his comments were uneducated and hurtful, Sterling has said the recording cannot be used against him in any proceeding because it was obtained illegally.
Josh Peter reported from Los Angeles
VIDEO: Fans applaud Clippers sale
Los Angeles Clippers fans are applauding the reported deal that has former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer buying the team for $2 billion. Shelly Sterling negotiated the deal after her husband was recorded making racist remarks. (May 30) AP