LOS ANGELES — When asked how much money she wanted to sell the Los Angeles Clippers, the wife of disgraced team owner Donald Sterling handed a piece of paper to her lawyer with two numbers: $1.5 to $2.
What wasn't written was understood — she meant billions, shocking figures for a franchise that until recently was a perpetual loser. But Shelly Sterling soon brokered a deal to part with the team for a record $2 billion, selling it to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, a buyer whose name she did not know at first.
In an exclusive interview Thursday with The Associated Press, she offered details about negotiating one of the richest deals in sports after her husband's racist rant to a girlfriend prompted the NBA to ban him for life and force him to give up the team. That's when she stepped in.
"I was given the task and I did it," she said. "I just did what I had to do."
For a half-century, Shelly Sterling had worked in her husband's shadow, renovating and decorating their real-estate properties while he built a business empire. Now she was the key decision maker at the center of one of the sports world's most closely watched transactions.
She hired well-known attorney Pierce O'Donnell, and prospective buyers started lining up. David Geffen made an offer of $1.65 billion, and an Egyptian princess also entered the bidding war, she said.
Ballmer called her at 7 a.m. on a Saturday.
"He was really enthusiastic," she recalled. "He said I want to come see you immediately."
She put him off until the next day and quickly called a girlfriend to find out who he was.
When they met, "he was a like a little child," she remembered. "He was so excited, so happy. We sort of connected. I felt he would be good for the team."
She said he asked her how much the other bidders had offered and then put forward his own figure — $1.9 billion. That was far more than most observers believed the team was worth, but Shelly Sterling wasn't satisfied.
"I told him: 'You won't have to build an arena or a practice field.' So he was getting a bargain. And I told him, 'We have great players, a great coach and you'll never have the chance to buy a team in Los Angeles again."
After her speech, she recalled, "He said, 'O.K. I'll give you two.' He really, really wanted the team."
She said she extracted a promise that he would never move the team to Seattle, his hometown. The deal closed after a bitter probate fight with her husband.
Ballmer gave her the title "owner emeritus" and said she would have floor tickets for all games. She also gets three championship rings if the team wins an NBA title.
The negotiations put her in an unusually public role.
"I never liked the spotlight. I didn't like to get up and speak," she said. "But you don't know your potential until you're thrown into something."
She found herself in the middle of a publicity maelstrom with the release of explosive audio tapes of her husband denouncing his young girlfriend for bringing black men to Clippers games, including former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson.